Ask any American whose birthdays are celebrated as part of the catchall holiday known as Presidents' Day, and watch them give you the wrong answer. Oldsters know that once upon a time, commanders in chief were important enough to have their birthdays recognized separately. Not anymore. Now people care more about whether they get a day off from work than the reason why.
Frankly who can blame them? Following Watergate, the Iran-Contra scandal, and the Lewinsky, er, affair, presidents just don't garner the respect they used to. Artist Chuck Levitan, however, still thinks of one leader as being larger than life. His reverence for Abraham Lincoln will be displayed this Saturday and next Sunday through Tuesday during his show Lincoln on Lincoln Road.
A former New Yorker who ran his own art gallery for 25 years in SoHo, Levitan in 1976 commissioned twenty prominent American artists (including Romare Bearden and Chaim Gross) to participate in a project called "Bicentennial Banners," honoring the United States' 200th birthday. Levitan's contribution: a portrait called Lincoln Split, a pop-inspired work depicting the president's hair and beard divided between black and Day-Glo colors and a rainbow cascading from his left eyelid. The banners eventually traveled to 40 countries and were on exhibit for a year at Washington, D.C.'s Hirshhorn Museum.
In 1998 Levitan relocated to Miami Beach, lured by the lovely weather and lower rents. He admits the open-air mall named for his favorite president beckoned as well. "Lincoln Road?" he recalls saying to himself. "I have to show my Lincolns here!" Now he lives just a few blocks from the area, where he'll present a series of ten-by-six-foot Lincoln studies he did in charcoal. He'll preview the exhibition this Saturday (Lincoln's actual birthday), but the work will be displayed for three days beginning Sunday, February 20.
Now concentrating on creating sculptures instead of painting portraits, Levitan, who ironically was born on July 4, allows that the towering figure of Lincoln still exerts a powerful hold on him. He hopes the same reaction may be stirred in those who view his work. "It'll grab you!" he says.