It’s hard to walk past the window of Manhattan gallery Mulherin Pollard Projects without stopping to admire Karl Rove, dressed as Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.”
In a painting titled “Perfect Happiness,” the former senior adviser to President George W. Bush wears a blue gingham dress and ruby slippers as he (she?) stands in a lush nighttime garden with one arm around the neck of a Bambi-like fawn.
The cheeky artwork by Canadian artist Michael Caines is part of an exhibition that also depicts Glenn Beck, Richard Nixon and Kim Jong-Il (but no Canadians) as oddly garbed creatures with oversized heads.
“I’ve been trying to understand American politics and history,” said Caines, 46, in a telephone interview from his studio in Brooklyn, New York. “The works are about my right to assert my imaginative power.”
The show’s seven paintings and five drawings are skillful executions that sometimes elicit a tender spirit with their peculiar meld of 19th-century political cartoon and characters from Fragonard, Goya and the John Tenniel illustrations of “Alice in Wonderland.”
They aren’t eliciting much legal tender, however. A week into the show, only one drawing had sold: An ink-on-paper rendering of the gingham Rove.
“We couldn’t count on his previous collectors,” said dealer Katharine Mulherin, who has worked with Caines since 1999. “I thought maybe we should target political comedians.”
One painting, “Little Lamb of the GOP,” depicts young Ronald Reagan as Jesus cradling a little lamb with Glenn Beck’s face. The two figures are set against the backdrop of purple mountains and green sky.
It’s a reworking of Del Parson’s “Lost Lamb” painting, “that is probably found in most fundamentalist households in America,” said Caines. So there’s another market niche alienated.
The North Korean leader wears a ball gown straight out of Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” in the drawing titled “Lil’ Kim.” “Tea Party” portrays the late conservative U.S. Senator Jesse Helms with floppy ears and talk radio host “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger as the Mad Hatter.
“I don’t know how many people would want to have Glenn Beck’s face or Ronald Reagan’s face in their home,” said Caines, who leans politically to the left. “I would.”
Prices range from $1,200 to $1,400 for drawings and from $5,000 to $10,000 for paintings. “Perfect Happiness” runs through Dec. 31 at 317 Tenth Ave.; +1-212-967-0045; http://mulherinpollard.com.
(Katya Kazakina is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)