When was the last time you thought about Lyndon Baines Johnson?
Ok, I know, to some of you he’s nothing but a name in a history book. At least I hope he’s there. When I studied history, his chapter was still being lived out. Then, he resigned his candidacy for the presidency–dropped out of the race– and the book was cut short.
At MOMA in New York City I was taken with artist Marisol’s wood construction of LBJ holding his wife and daughters in the palm of his hand, called LBJ.
It’s not a flattering depiction.
It was created in 1967 at the height of LBJ’s unpopularity. Here’s the video:
LBJ was an obnoxious and domineering personality, and this piece shows it.
To be fair, Lyndon B. Johnson’s career was a classic tragedy. His time in public office was marked by greatness–he created and signed groundbreaking civil rights legislation and a significant anti-poverty program. Those had far-reaching implications on our society.
At the same time, the guy just couldn’t lead his way out of a paper bag. All the wheeling and dealing that worked so well in Congress translated poorly to the presidency. The Vietnam War just killed any iota of greatness he had.
Of course, he was crude and a huge, sexist horndog, to boot, and if he’d been in office today, he’d have been disgraced long before he was. In the end, he was a sad and broken figure.
LBJ’s life reinforces what we know but sometimes don’t want to admit: that we’re all a mixture of good and bad traits.
It’s all how we play them out in life.
Another thought-provoking MOMA moment: art at its best.