In a Collection of Memorabilia, Politics at Its Most Boisterous (Museum Exhibit/NYC)





One of the great unanswerable questions of the exuberant exhibition “Campaigning for President: New York and the American Election,” which opened this week at the Museum of the City of New York, concerns a handsome 1888 ceramic chamber pot that sports an elegant monogram intertwining the initials of Grover Cleveland and Allen G. Thurman. If this vessel was ever used, was it out of support for these Democratic Party candidates, or the opposite?

There is less ambiguity about the hollowed-out posteriors of metal pigs, within which pictures of William McKinley were inserted. These souvenirs from the 1896 campaign of William Jennings Bryan alluded not to presidential pork-barrel, but to a vulgar phrase about voting for Bryan’s opponent being as ridiculous and offensive as a pig’s behind.

Vulgarity was part of the point. This exhibition of presidential campaign paraphernalia — which will run through Election Day and should serve as a potent counterpoint to the season lying before us — is drawn mostly from the collection of more than a million pins, costumes, posters, stockings, flags, masks, toys, license plates and other objects assembled by Jordan M. Wright (who died suddenly last month, at 50, after preparing a book about his collection and inspiring this show). Another display of campaign ephemera, “If Elected: The Game of American Politics,” is scheduled to open on July Fourth at the New-York Historical Society.


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