Presidents Get ‘Time’ In Spotlight

Presidents Skewered at Portrait Gallery Exhibit

Posted February 24, 2010 at 4:25pm

While it may be an honor to have your image on the cover of Time, it is not always flattering. The news magazine has been known to poke fun at its subjects, even in cover portraits. That rule applies even to presidents: When they’re featured on the cover, they’re not always shown in the best light. For clear evidence, take a look at a new exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery.

“From FDR to Obama: Presidents on Time” displays 30 images of presidents as seen on the cover of Time. After all, every president — with the exception of Herbert Hoover — has been featured on the cover of the news magazine since 1923, the year the weekly began publication. The exhibition, which runs through Sept. 6, actually makes up just a small fraction of the Portrait Gallery’s Time collection. Over the years, the famed magazine has donated more than 2,000 items to the museum, including 800 paintings, drawings and sketches in 1978.

“In addition to what people might expect us to have in our collections — paintings, sculpture and photographs — the Portrait Gallery also holds cover art portraits from Time magazine,” Brandon Fortune, acting director and curator of painting and sculpture, said in a release. “This exhibition brings the two together for a lively discussion that is fueled by art, history and biography.”

The exhibition includes a wide variety of art forms ranging from oil paintings to sculpture, all of which were then used for the cover photographs. For example, one highlight is a pop art sculpture of Richard Nixon created by Stanley Glaubach, which ran on the cover in January 1972. Glaubach covered the bust in newspaper headlines including ones that read: “Nixon: ‘Viet Peace Is in Sight'” and “Nixon Asks for Power.”

In many ways, the exhibition is as much a history lesson as it is an art show. Each image is accompanied by a small plaque telling visitors why the president was on the cover that week.

Perhaps the most unflattering image in the collection is a cartoon of former President Gerald Ford as a surgeon working alongside then-Speaker Carl Albert (D-Okla.) to revive a patient. The cover, created by artist Mort Drucker, ran at a time when the U.S. inflation rate was at nearly 14 percent and Ford spoke of a “three-stage operation” to repair the economy.

“From FDR to Obama” also features more solemn images, such as an oil painting by Alfred Leslie depicting President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Yuri Andropov standing back-to-back. The two men shared the annual “Man of the Year” honor in 1983.

President Barack Obama is also shown in the exhibit with the cover that ran on Nov. 24, 2008. In that image, his face is imposed on a photograph of FDR complete with top hat and glasses. The headline reads “The New New Deal.”

In addition to these presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan are featured, some of them more than once.