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Chuck Close ’64MFA: An artist faces Obama.

Chuck Close ’64MFA has face blindness—a learning disability that makes it difficult, even impossible, to remember people’s faces. In real life. In two dimensions, however, “I have virtual photographic memory,” Close told a PBS interviewer. “I want to commit [faces] to memory. And the only way I can really do that is to flatten them out.”

Close’s giant paintings and prints, constructed by hand from his own photographs, have made him “the most celebrated portrait artist of our era,” the New Yorker said recently. But Close doesn’t take commissions—his portrait subjects are friends and public figures he admires. Like President Barack Obama. From an hour-long photo shoot, Close created hundreds of prints and tapestries, which he made available to Obama’s reelection campaign as a fund-raising tool. (Close made a similar offer during Obama’s 2008 campaign, he tells the New Yorker, “but there was no response.”)

The portraits were offered online at prices ranging from $5,000 to $100,000 and at an October 3 “Artists for Obama” auction on Park Avenue in New York City (ticket price: $250). The New Yorker predicted that proceeds “could reach $3 million.” The Obama campaign could not be reached for comment on the actual take, or on how much might be used to hire a debate coach.


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