The Political Prints Of Richard Serra

Fake President, 2017, stamp and silkscreen on paper, 24×18″, $2000, ed. 250, published by Gemini GEL, at one point to benefit People for the American Way, though the Gemini site doesn’t mention that. PFAW’s website has them available, along with a Ruscha.

Richard Serra makes a lot of prints, and a lot of them are published as polit..ical fundraisers. They are collected here, mostly from Serra’s Gemini GEL page, where a lot of them are still available, even long after their specific election has passed.

[Caption ganked along with photo] NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 25: “Fake President” art work by Richard Serra the People For The American Way Event For Election 2018 on October 25, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for People for the American Way)

The most recent, published in October 2018, is the most atypical. Fake President commemorates Norman Lear’s 95th birthday, and was one of several works created to raise money for the People For the American Way, which Lear founded. The reflection in the Getty Images pic from the drop party–just two weeks before the election, so riding the wave, not making it, I guess–looks like a bronze plaque, or at least metallic foil, which would be weird and awesome. The force behind these prints, often part of portfolios, is Gemini G.E.L., which I assume means Sidney Felsen.

NOROMNEY, 2012, etching, 14×14 in.., ed. 150, $3800
Promenade Notebook Drawing for Obama, 2008, 13 3/4 x 10 3/4 in., ed. 150, $5,500

I guess it’s interesting that for the edition supporting a Black president against the whitest candidate, Serra switches to working in white. The notes on MoMA’s copy of this that Obama “was elected one month following its release.”

Stop Bush, 2004, published in Artforum, Summer 2004
Stop B S , 2004, 60 x 51 in., lithograph, ed. 250, $5,000
Abu Ghraib, 2004, lithograph, 20×14 1/2 in., lithograph, ed. 250, $3,500

The Bush era prints look similar, but are of different images. Stop B S was a large, single-work alternative to the Kerry/Edwards benefit print portfolio (which included the smaller Abu Ghraib.) It was actually adapted from a drawing, Stop Bush, done for an Artforum portfolio that summer. Imagine being such a war criminal you made Richard Serra turn to figuration. Three times.

Clinton 96, 1996, 24×24 1/4 in., etching, ed. 75, sold out at Gemini, but out there if you want one

I’ve only found a Clinton fundraiser print from the second campaign. An etching, vs. a litho, too. James Rosenquist and, I think, Bruce Nauman, also did prints for this collection, but I can’t find the details.

Fuck Helms, 1990, 14×15 in. sheet, silkscreen & embossing, ed. 75.

Not gonna lie, this entire post is just me filling the content gap between the Fake President edition and this. This little Serra, similar to the Afangar prints he was making at the same time, was part of the Harvey Gantt Portfolio, a fundraiser for Helms’s African American Democratic opponent, and it perfectly captures the 1990 art world’s view of Helms–who went on to win anyway.

Gemini and Felsen feel central here, and by extension, the larger Democratic fundraising apparatus of Los Angeles, not just of the art world. He gave Gemini artists a platform to channel their political involvement, and became a go-to guy for traditional Democratic fundraisers who would not otherwise see a lot of bang for the buck in commissioning fundraiser prints. Even for the Obama campaign, when many non-Gemini artists did make posters or other artworks, for example, Gemini still had a lock on the “official” fundraising portfolio. Combined with the timing of the drops, I’d say these prints perform in the moment as perqs for the existing political donors within Gemini’s network. That there are still prints from unsold, broken up portfolios available even decades later means they don’t function as draws, or even as necessarily desirable swag for people who readily gave much more money to these campaigns. For the artists, and especially for Serra, they do seem like a chance to speak out; he’s doing them for the message, not the money.