ART - USA

Washington museum acquires Obama portrait

The world-famous red, white and blue portrait of President-elect Barack Obama, designed by Shepard Fairey, has been acquired by the Smithsonian Institution and will be on show at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

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AFP - Before Barack Obama takes office later this month, his stylized portrait will join the National Portrait Gallery's collection just a few blocks from the White House, the museum said Wednesday.

The red, white and blue image by Los Angeles street artist Shepard Fairey became a popular symbol of the first African-American US president, and can already be found around the world on T-shirts, stickers and posters.

The Smithsonian Institution said it acquired the "mixed-media stenciled collage," measuring 1.50 by 1.11 meters (60 by 44 inches), for an undisclosed amount through donations by Washington art collectors Heather and Tony Podesta.

The Smithsonian-affiliated National Portrait Gallery said it would hang the work for public view by Inauguration Day on January 20.

Fairey's artwork became the central portrait of the Obama campaign. The bottom of the poster-like image features the campaign slogan "Hope," which changed to "Change" and "Vote" in subsequent versions.

"This work is an emblem of a significant election, as well as a new presidency," National Portrait Gallery director Martin Sullivan said in a statement.

"Shepard Fairey's instantly recognizable image was integral to the Obama campaign."

"The image was only given away for free" and Fairey "never charged anybody" for the portrait, his publicist Jennifer Gross told AFP.

Millions of copies were printed and distributed to help popularize Obama's ideas and personality during the presidential campaign, Gross added.

The stylized image is not the future president's official portrait, which the National Portrait Gallery will commission during Obama's term. The Obamas will choose the artist for the official portrait that will then join those of the 43 previous US presidents.

Fairey "uses his art to make a political statement," Gross said. In 2004, the artist created a poster in which President George W. Bush held a bomb in his arms, as though he were cradling a baby.

Fairey's work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

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