‘Commander in Chief’: Presidential Symbols by Brian Tolle

NEW YORK—President Obama’s head is crowned with tiny figurines representing all of the president’s that served before his historic election. Abraham Lincoln’s bust creatively incorporates the words from his two inaugural addresses. Richard Nixon’s image is spewing tape from a recorder.

Inspired by symbolic aspects of each president’s persona—the shorthand version of how the public regards the powerful figures, “Commander in Chief” at CRG Gallery, features multi-media works by Brian Tolle. Each work is titled with the number corresponding to the president’s order in office. Obama’s bust for example is called “No. 44. According to the gallery, through “Tolle’s historical eye, we are asked to question how we recall our national history, and more importantly how popular culture and political rhetoric inform and simplify our opinions.”

Abraham Lincoln: “No. 16,” 2012 (mixed media), references Lincoln being shot in the head. The words to both of his inaugural addresses appear on the red, white and blue ribbons.

The Tolle exhibit was scheduled to be on view on view from Oct. 11 to Nov. 10, 2012. When I saw the collection, I thought it would be a great show to feature on Arts Observer right after the election, when American voters had decided who would occupy the White House for the next four years. But Sandy hit New York a couple of days after I visited CRG and the gallery was unfortunately among the many Chelsea spaces damaged by the severe storm.

Arts Observer reached out the the CRG via email to inquire whether the gallery expected to reopen the exhibit before staging its next show, but did not receive a response. The gallery remains temporarily closed, so I am glad to be able to share these images.

All photos © Arts Observer

Installation view.

John F. Kennedy: “No. 35,” 2012 (mixed media). His “gleaming silver head is supported by Sputnik-like legs as a nod to his ‘space race’ with the Soviet Union.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower: “No. 34,” 2012 (mixed media). Eisenhower’s image is split in two, envisioned as bookends to several volumes containing his speeches and other writings.

George Washington: “No. 1 (First Inaugural Address),” 2012 (mixed media).

Detail of “No. 1.”

Richard Nixon: “No. 37,” 2012 (mixed media).

“Winners and Losers,” 2012 (vintage presidential campaign buttons on canvas in two parts). Over the years, many people have run for president, but only 44 men have served as commander in chief. The large work on the left features the candidates’ buttons. Those who have actually been president are included in a much smaller circular work.

Detail of winners buttons.

Installation view with “No. 40” in the foreground, a glass Ronald Reagan head filled with jelly beans.

Barack Obama: “No. 44,” 2012 (mixed media).

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