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TO AUG. 31
For all the changes wrought in this country over the past century, the iconography of American campaign ephemera has remained remarkably unchanged. This, at least, is the sense one gets from “William Jennings Bryan–George Walker Bush: A Century of American Political Memorabilia,” an exhibition of mainly posters and buttons at the Banning + Low gallery. (The exhibition begins when it does because the 1896 campaign between Bryan and William McKinley was the first presidential race held after the birth of the campaign button as we know it.) Whether advertising the famous (Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson) or also-rans of the type only CNN’s Jeff Greenfield would ever remember (Elihu Root, Alton B. Parker), most campaign buttons on display hew to one of two formulas: Either the candidate’s name is marqueed in patriotic shades of red, white, and blue or else the button features a simple portrait. Check out the most recent pins, touting Kerry-Edwards and Bush-Cheney, and it’s easy to see how we got from there to here—via a few detours, such as a groovy license-plate advertising George Wallace’s name in hot-pink lettering. If anything, though, it’s the candidates’ faces that now look hopelessly dated: Could Charles Evans Hughes with his massive beard, Thomas E. Dewey with his creepy mustache, or Adlai Stevenson with his lanky frame and balding scalp ever get elected to any high office today? Also showing at the gallery: biting political works by Washington-area caricaturist Charles A. Mendez Jr., including one defense of Lewinsky-era Bill Clinton that pays clever homage to Jasper Johns’ “target” paintings. The show is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, to Tuesday, Aug. 31, at the Banning + Low Gallery, 3730 Howard Ave., Kensington. Free. (301) 933-0700. (Louis Jacobson)