NYPL's Prints Mocking Politicians Spark Controversy

Say cheese for your mugshot, Mr. Cheney! Controversy has erupted from the sleepy third-floor hallway galleries at the New York Public Library, where an exhibition of mug shot-style prints are on display. Each black and white photograph features a member of the Bush administration appearing in profile and face forward, holing a police identification sign and the date on which he or she made a statement of questionable veracity relating to Iraq.

The New York Times reports:

A video accompanying the prints allows you to hear an actual recording through headphones as you view each speaker’s fake mug shot reproduced on screen. President Bush announces the discovery of Saddam Hussein’s effort to purchase uranium in Africa. Dick Cheney says, “Nobody has produced a single shred of evidence that there’s anything wrong or inappropriate here,” presumably a reference to Halliburton. (The entire video is available on YouTube.)

It is at first mildly shocking to come upon such bluntly partisan artwork on a New York Public Library wall. Biting political satire is deeply a part of printmaking history — see Goya, James Gillray and Daumier — but handmade prints are no longer a significant form of political communication, and we don’t expect anything so brazenly tendentious in the public library context.