Beautiful and Damned
It is not normal for
me to be a Kennedy.
But I am no longer
ashamed, no longer
alone. I am not
alone tonight because
we are all Kennedys.
And I am your President.
“An American Poem” by Eileen Myles
Portraiture has long been the medium of wealth and privilege. In his new exhibition Beautiful and Damned, Mitchell Anderson puts together an iconic portrait of industrial society and its intricate fictions. The Kennedys—the American political family par excellence—are portrayed by Anderson as both objects of desire and as remnants of an anticlimactic post-war era.
His work repeatedly complicates the distinction between art and memorabilia: campaign buttons, cigars from the White House, playing cards, and the photographs from Oliver Stone’s film JFK all walk this line between the two categories. This practice, here represented by works spanning the last decade, emerges from interest in the valuation of objects; it is a method that shares an affinity with minimalist sculpture but, in the end, it is predominantly invested in the muddy waters of content and meaning.
In the exhibition, several paintings of political campaign buttons line the wall, and with their shapeshifting typography, the designs of the buttons reference different decades and regional cultures where the various campaigns were run. As such, Anderson’s work nods to a form of political marketing bent on pandering to strategic demographics, guiding us through the oxymoron of liberal monarchs and plutocrats. The current iteration of Western democracy is one of the exhibition’s many subjects, and as such Beautiful and Damned resembles less the idyllic town square and more an absurd, contrived PR campaign.
His playing card portraits encrypt literary quotes with a simple cipher: beckoning the myths, tragedies and conspiracies that surround the Kennedy dynasty, inviting his viewers to assemble scattered clues and decipher information. The shirtless bodies of the Kennedy scions, fixed on the playing cards, express a libidinal flair for the political and a voyeuristic fixation on virile, masculine leadership.
Beautiful and Damned tracks the rise-and-fall narrative of the Kennedys with an obsessive precision. Urgent and feverishly camp, Anderson’s show traverses a landscape of contradictions, mapping the end of the so-called American Century.