Originally created 09/22/03

Life of JFK depicted through art at Bruce Museum



GREENWICH, Conn. -- James Wyeth's 1967 oil painting of John F. Kennedy is how many people like to remember the president.

Wearing a dark suit, his hair neatly combed back, Kennedy is seated - perhaps at his desk in the Oval Office - with his chin resting against a fisted hand.

Handsome and stoic, the image is that of an icon.

Wyeth's work is one of more than 40 pieces of art in an exhibit at the Bruce Museum of Arts and Science depicting the 35th American president's life and death.

"JFK and Art," which runs from Sept. 20 through Jan. 11, is a first, exhibit officials said.

"Nobody has done this topic before or from this perspective," said Nancy Hall-Duncan, co-curator of the show and curator of the Bruce Museum.

The exhibit will be presented in chronological order, beginning with images of a younger Kennedy campaigning for president in 1960 and ending after his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

"Kennedy's image was being formed before he became president, while he was president and after the assassination," said Hall-Duncan. "We've dealt with each time period."

Not every piece is as idealistic as Wyeth's "Portrait of John F. Kennedy."

Pablo Picasso's "Rape of the Sabine Women" is a clear criticism of Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile crisis. The Spanish artist's 1963 oil painting depicts a contest of will between Kennedy and Russian Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev over missile bases in Cuba.

The flat, boxy and elongated image of Marisol Escobar's "The Kennedys" criticized the larger-than-life image of the family, said Hall-Duncan. The 1960 sculpture, made of mixed media, shows Kennedy with his wife, Jacqueline, and their daughter, Caroline, standing on top of a platform.

Much of the exhibit is dedicated to showcasing the works of Pop artists, such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, who were influenced by popular culture and mass media of the time. The rise of Pop Art coincided with the Kennedy era.

"I think that the Pop artists were fascinated with media image, and there was no single more powerful image than of Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline," said Kenneth E. Silver, who wrote an essay, "The Presidential Spectacle: Art, Culture and JFK," to accompany the show.

"You might say John F. Kennedy was the first pop culture president," added Silver, a professor of fine arts at New York University.

Lichtenstein's colorful image of Sen. Robert Kennedy looks as though it belongs inside the pages of a comic book.

The idea emerged for the exhibit after art historian Charles Stuckey noticed a popular Jacqueline Kennedy fashion exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 2001.

"I just remember the long lines," said Stuckey, an adjunct professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. "I was quite touched and amazed that after so many years ... there was still a huge part of our public that was in touch with the Kennedy moment. That prompted me to wonder why no museum had ever brought together all the works with Kennedy's image from the time of his administration."

He brought the idea to Hall-Duncan soon after and she immediately began digging through old art textbooks.

"It was a lot of research," said Hall-Duncan, "but we were really very lucky when we found a lot of work that hasn't been acknowledged. People aren't aware of all the work that fits this theme."

"JFK and Art" also coincides with the 40th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, though Hall-Duncan said that was unintended.

The exhibit will travel to the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla., from Feb. 7 through May 2, 2004.