Photograph: Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images
A picture is worth a thousand tweets. Donald Trump gained a sort of immortality on Friday when he made his debut at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. But he also encountered “good problems”.
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Canny Tories brought the 45th President face to face with a painting of John Lewis, the late Congressman and civil rights hero whose habit of doing what he called “good trouble” included boycotting the inauguration of Trump.
“Keep it honest!” noticed Eric Bargeron, 40, a book publisher from Columbia, South Carolina, as he observed Lewis in an exhibit called The Struggle for Justice, watching Trump from across the room in the popular American presidents.
Trump’s photo was taken by New York-based Pari Dukovic for Time magazine on June 17, 2019, the day before the president officially announced his candidacy for re-election. He shows him sitting at the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, wearing his long red tie.
The photo is accompanied by a caption in neutral museum language, noting that Trump was elected “after tapping into American populist sentiment” and that he “came up with an” America First “program.” He records his two indictments and says the coronavirus pandemic “has become a key issue during his re-election campaign.”
The caption adds: “Trump did not concede [defeat], and a host of his supporters, who refused to accept the results, attacked the U.S. Capitol complex on Jan.6, 2021, as Congress worked to certify [Joe] Biden’s victory.
The caption also appears in Spanish, a policy rarely seen in Trump’s White House.
In another symbolic twist, the image of Trump has supplanted the portrayal of Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley, who is embarking on a year-long visit to five cities. Trump is now back to back with the famous Hope poster featuring Obama, by artist Shepard Fairey.
The gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution, reopened to timed pass holders Friday after a six-month pandemic shutdown. It includes a special exhibition of portraits of first ladies, from Martha Washington to Melania Trump.
A trickle of visitors flocked to see Trump, whose resemblance never quite reached Mount Rushmore, join the pantheon of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt on the gallery walls.
Dan Freedman, a British documentary filmmaker based in Louisville, Kentucky, was celebrating his 40th birthday but did not see Trump at first.
“I deliberately looked away,” he says. “It’s cool that they put Obama behind the bad guy.”
Freedman made a noble sacrifice for the Guardian, crossing the room to study Trump’s portrait.
“He looks like an insecure man who holds the desk to believe in himself,” he said. “He doesn’t sound very humble.
Briton Fran McDonald, professor at the University of Louisville, agreed: “It’s hard to watch. I started taking a picture of it, then decided I didn’t want it on my phone. I’m so relieved that we don’t have to watch or listen to it anymore. It was a relentless assault on the senses to have her in the 24 hour news cycle.
The gallery draws visitors from across America, but judging by Friday’s crowds, there will be few Trump worshipers keen to turn this into a ‘Make America Great Again’ sanctuary ahead of a potential White House race. in 2024.
Kevin Newman, 38, a Chicago police sergeant, said he was “not a fan” of Trump.
“I was interested in how they would represent him because he was a controversial president,” he said. “They made him look good. If they had made him look bad, it would have ignited controversy. They didn’t make it look orange.
The photo will make way for a painted portrait – the gallery says Trump’s team is considering artists. Newman added: “Obviously he cares a lot about his image, so it’s interesting to see who he chooses.”
Trump might look to Richard Nixon’s 1968 painting for a model. The artist, Norman Rockwell, admitted that, finding Nixon’s appearance elusive, he decided to err on the side of flattery.
Meg Krilov and James Fogel were visiting from Trump’s New York birthplace. Krilov, 65, a retired doctor, said of his portrait: “He looks very miserable. I don’t think he really wanted to be president. He wanted to be king.
Her husband Fogel, 70, a retired judge, added: “He was a traitor. He tried to overthrow the government. And I guess he’s still trying.
Did it strike you as odd to see a former reality TV host, credibly accused of paying a porn star, enshrined in the same room as Lyndon Johnson and George HW Bush?
“It was weird the whole time,” Fogel said. “It continues to strike me as strange.”