This is what artist Melissa Ichiuji‘s sculpture of President Barack Obama was supposed to look like in her exhibit at Georgetown’s Galerie Lareuse.
That’s not the version that wound up in the gallery.
Why? She says the gallery’s owner, Jean-Michel “Meech” Lareuse, asked her to change it before she could exhibit it. She sent invitations to the show, “Fair Game,” before it opened on Sept. 15, using an image of the original artwork. She posted the same image to her website. Not long afterward, both the gallery and Ichiuji began getting irate emails—-some of them quite threatening. People thought it was “some kind of call to action to hurt the president, which wasn’t the intent at all,” she says. “It’s about pressure, it’s about anxiety, and just sort of the political climate overseas.” But Lareuse wasn’t having it, says Ichiuji. “He said ‘We cannot show that piece unless you change it.'”
So she did. Instead of a bloody wound, the piece now depicts doves “exploding out” of the president’s head. (The doves aren’t a permanent change, she says. They can be unbuttoned and removed.)
On her website, the artist is claiming the gallery “censored” her sculpture. When reached, curator Kreg Kelley denies the censorship charge; he says Lareuse asked her to change the piece because it wasn’t appropriate for Georgetown. To some extent, Ichiuji understands—-edgy conversation starters are not really their area, she says. “They are in the business to not offend.” (A phone call to Lareuse has not been returned.)
The piece is now in the gallery’s window, so shoppers on Pennsylvania Avenue NW can get a look whenever they want. Inside the venue, Ichiuji has placed a copy of a letter she sent to the president, explaining what her artwork means, and inviting him to the show.
Meanwhile, Ichiuji says she got a call a few days ago from Sarah Palin‘s people, expressing Todd Palin‘s interest in purchasing her sculpture of the former Alaska governor. The Palins probably read about the show in the Washington Times.