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Democracy in America: Political Satire Then and Now exhibition fosters dialogue about elections at the ASU Art Museum

August 11, 2004

TEMPE, Ariz. – Political art past and present will merge at the ASU Art Museum this election year during the dialogue-inducing exhibition Democracy in America: Political Satire Then and Now, Aug. 31 – Nov. 19.

From George Washington’s portrait, which -- with technology’s aid -- can grow a Pinocchio nose, to early French and English satirical cartoons, from a quaint, carved walking cane with Al Gore’s likeness, to photos collages that challenge the viewer to match local Republicans and Democrats with their dogs, the exhibition explores the love-hate and humorous relationships between politics and the populous.

“Voting is the ultimate opportunity for us to express our opinions about who represents us, but art – beautiful, caustic, simple or searing – often frames or reflects those opinions,” said Museum Director Marilyn Zeitlin. “The election is on everyone’s mind, and, with the presidential debate coming to Arizona State University, we felt this was a special opportunity to add some perspective to the whole political process.”

Democracy is designed to inspire visitors to become fully engaged in the democratic process and will coincide with the last round of presidential debates scheduled to be held at ASU on Oct. 13. The exhibition will kick off with a “Super Tuesday” party from 5 to 8 p.m., Aug. 31 to welcome back ASU students.

A public reception will be held in conjunction with the museum’s 2004-2005 season opening from 7 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 22.

Throughout the 80-day exhibition, there will be interactive educational activities, including in-gallery “voting” booths for children under 18, interactive response stations for adults and voter registration information

Taking a cue from their founding fathers, ASU Art Museum curators have organized the exhibition according to the three branches of American government – executive, judicial and legislative -- as well as a separate section on elections.

“Our goal was to offer an exhibition with variety of viewpoints, as well as showcase historical art side by side with contemporary pieces. It’s clear that old political art has become the template for new political art,” Zeitlin said.

For example, William Hogarth’s 18th century An Election Entertainment series depicts political corruption and an electoral system for sale, while local artist Heide Hesse’s American Dream gumball vending machine sculpture spits out toy packets of American icons, including a “winning” toy – much like an election contest. Norman Rockwell’s Portrait of John F. Kennedy can be seen alongside National Security Blanket, a political cartoon by Paul Szep that depicts former president Nixon seeking comfort in his flag “blankie” during impeachment hearings. Classic portraits of George Washington are contrasted with Dan Collins’ I Cannot Tell a Lie George Washington video installation that shows the long and short of the first president’s nose – is he questioning George’s honesty or just wistful that today’s politicians be more like that?

Historical work also includes nostalgia items like campaign buttons that date back to the mid-20th century and presidential television ad campaigns from 1952 to the present.

The current candidates get attention, too. Whether through paintings, ceramics, website animation or newspaper cartoons, these contemporary pieces “articulate one of the most treasured aspects of democracy -- the right to express an opinion,” Zeitlin said.

Zeitlin’s inspiration for the exhibition was based on Alexis de Tocqueville’s book "Democracy in America," written in 1835 and still considered one of the best texts written about democracy and America.

“The words democracy and America carry enormous emotional weight. They are words people have died for. To what extent do they mean the same things now that they did in Tocqueville’s time?” she questioned.

Artists represented in the Democracy exhibition include: Eric Avery, Russell Barnett Aitken, Jim Budde, Enrique Chagoya, Colin Chillag, Sue Coe, Dan Collins, Robbie Conal, William Coupon, Honoré Daumier, Linda Eddy, Arthur Habegger, Heide Hesse, William Hogarth, John Haddock, Charles Howe, Benito Huerta, Peter Kuper, Carolyn Lavender, Roy Lichtenstein, Larry Litt, Leopoldo Mendez, Thomas Nast, Mark Newport, Luo Xiao Ping, James Poppitz, Alfred Quiroz, Lynn Randolph, Michael Rich, John Risseeuw, Mike Ritter, Norman Rockwell, Barb Ross, William Sartain, Julian Schnabel, Gregg and Evan Spiridellis, Paul Szep, Einar and Janex de la Torre and Betty Wells.

The ASU Art Museum, named “the single most impressive venue for contemporary art in Arizona” by Art in America, is part of the Herberger College of Fine Arts at Arizona State University. The museum is located on the southeast corner of Mill Avenue and 10th Street in Tempe and entry is free. Hours are 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday and until 9 p.m. Tuesdays during the academic year. For more information, call (480) 965-2787 or visit the museum online at

Media Contact:
Mica Matsoff
(480) 965-0478