- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — The scene: A downtown art studio. Patrons swill martinis, sample hors d’oeuvres and consider the displays in chin-stroking contemplation.

A normal gallery opening. What’s unusual is the art. On one wall, a buff, shirtless President Bush is a prizefighter, standing over his fallen opponent in the ring: filmmaker Michael Moore.

Another work, titled “Larger Than Life,” is an 8-foot-tall rendering of Ronald Reagan.

And the piece de resistance: Mr. Bush on horseback, triumphantly clutching the severed head of Osama bin Laden, by the turban, in his right hand. It is called “Have Faith.”

It’s all the work of Scott LoBaido, a self-styled “creative patriot” who believes passionately that the fate of the country depends on this election — and that Mr. Bush is the only choice.

“I wanted to let the Republicans know there are some creative people in this city who are on their side,” the 39-year-old artist said last week as his exhibit opened just before the Republican National Convention.

The work isn’t subtle. One of Mr. LoBaido’s pieces shows a NASCAR-style race car labeled “Bush/Cheney” barreling toward a bewildered-looking donkey, and another shows a match close to a U.S. flag with the caption “Don’t Even Think About It.”

In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than five to one — and an art community where the difference is even more stark — Mr. LoBaido says he shopped his work around for months with no takers.

“One gallery curator was cursing and screaming and got into this whole anti-Bush thing,” he said. “I said, you’re a curator of a gallery. You’re supposed to provoke emotion. This is the whole point.”

His work found a home at Tribute, a gallery that only opened in May in Lower Manhattan, south of the former World Trade Center site.

The gallery defines itself as apolitical. Still, other galleries’ refusal to show the work only made it more attractive to Tribute, said Emmora Irwin, operations director.

“Because it’s not necessarily our viewpoint, it’s even more important to show it,” she said. “I just don’t like the idea of someone not being able to find a space just because of their political views.”

The gallery did insist on keeping at least one of Mr. LoBaido’s pieces out of the exhibit — a depiction of Sen. John Kerry with two mouths.

It is not the first time Mr. LoBaido, a fourth-generation New Yorker, has found the spotlight. In 1999, when the Brooklyn Museum of Art displayed a portrait of the Virgin Mary plastered in elephant dung, he responded by flinging horse manure at the museum itself. He was arrested.

Mr. LoBaido’s exhibit, called “Hail to the Chief,” runs through Sept. 20. He hopes delegates will venture south to see it.

At the opening reception last week, a pair of women considered the Bush-bin Laden painting. One sighed. “Well,” she said, “it’s certainly thought-provoking. It’s a conversation piece, at least.”

Nearby, Ron Rice, a banker who works in Lower Manhattan not far from the gallery, said he found Mr. LoBaido’s work refreshing.

“It’s just great to see this in downtown Manhattan,” he said. “There’s just so much negative press against our president. This gives a different view.”

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