- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 18, 2000

Those who see the new exhibit "The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden" at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History may want to venture over to two related exhibits.

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is displaying "Star-Spangled Presidents: Portraits by Liza Lou." The Newseum in Rosslyn features "'Mr. President!': The White House Press Corps."

Californian Lou presents a tongue-in-cheek take on the 41 men who have been president with beaded portraits that resemble historic black-and-white photographs. Miss Lou says her installation is made with "zillions of beads." It is at once complimentary and ironic.

Like several of her other works, "Presidents" marries the sparkling sensuousness of beads with comments on American society.

Beads are associated with femininity and presidents with power, and she uses the paradox to create a work both zany and moving. Miss Lou, 31, keeps a sense of fun when she says, "It is humorous to see men in beads. Herbert Hoover is not someone you associate with glitter."

Visitors first see a fancy table set against the room's back wall, decorated with a beaded vase of flowers and bowl of fruit. The drawer of the table is slightly pulled out and hides a cigar. On the table's right is a flag of sequins in a beaded stand. Miss Lou has hung a portrait of President Clinton above it. A gold-colored chandelier of beads descends from the ceiling.

These are what she considers the trappings of office, and she surrounds them with uniformly sized 141/4-inch-by-17-inch portraits of the previous presidents.

Hung as a portrait gallery and placed in rows of three on each side of the table, the beaded portraits of silver, black, white and gray are bordered with wide bands of gold beads that look like gilded frames.

Miss Lou also has begun a portrait of our next president with white beads that she will fill in following the outcome of this month's election.

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A segment in the National Museum of American History's "The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden" deals with limiting presidential power. One of the restraints is the American press.

The Newseum's "'Mr. President!': The White House Press Corps" traces the history of its powers. The exhibit celebrates the 200th anniversary of the White House.

Through more than 50 photographs chronicling the early days, when only a few reporters questioned President Theodore Roosevelt while he had his morning shave, to today's packed news conferences, "Mr. President" surveys the history of White House reporting.

Included are presidential treasures and press secretaries' mementos. On display is the protective vest passed down from one press secretary to another. The staff of Ron Nessen, press secretary to President Gerald Ford, began the tradition by giving Mr. Nessen the vest.

The press secretary started another tradition by leaving a note in the vest for the incoming press secretary. The notes are placed in the pockets of the vests, and only the press secretaries see them. The only secretary not to leave a note was James Brady, President Reagan's secretary, who was wounded severely in the 1981 assassination attempt against Mr. Reagan.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's wheelchair also is on display. FDR used it during vacations at the "Little White House" in Warm Springs, Ga. A "gentleman's agreement" among the White House press corps protected Roosevelt from being pictured as disabled.

The exhibit also illustrates the strenuous pace of working in the White House, the cramped work space and the challenging experience of traveling with the president.

It shows Pierre Salinger, John F. Kennedy's press secretary, at a morning briefing. It also displays a photo of the former White House pool that JFK used for swimming. Today, it's the site of the press briefing room.

The exhibit also quotes Mike McCurry, who was a press secretary for Mr. Clinton: "To take that extraordinary talent and hold them hostage in this 19th-century mansion that doesn't have room for them, waiting for someone to drop a morsel of news in their vicinity, it's unhealthy."

One can see photos of reporters working in the claustrophobic, cubicle-filled press area behind the briefing room and Helen Thomas typing in her UPI cubicle in 1970. It seems to echo Mr. McCurry's assessment.

WHAT: "Star-Spangled Presidents: Portraits by Liza Lou"WHERE: Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th St. NWWHEN: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily through Feb. 19TICKETS: FreePHONE: 202/357-2700

WHAT: "'Mr. President!': The White House Press Corps"WHERE: Newseum, the Freedom Forum World Center, 1101 Wilson Blvd., ArlingtonWHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, through Jan. 28. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year'sTICKETS: FreePHONE: 703/284-3544

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