Barack Obama is the Man of the Moment at the Portrait Gallery

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The campaign may be over, but Barack Obama and John McCain continue to face off at the National Portrait Gallery.

In a gallery on the first floor, curators have hung portraits of the two men side by side. Both were taken by photographer Martin Schoeller, and are part of the new "Portraiture Now" exhibit.

Schoeller shot Obama's portrait for GQs "Men of the Year" feature in December 2004. He did McCain's portrait a year later, but on assignment for Men's Vogue. The McCain image was never published.

The President-elect's portrait is also the subject of an upcoming lecture by the exhibition's curator Anne Goodyear to take place this Thursday evening at 6 p.m. According to Goodyear, Obama keeps a copy of a famous portrait of Abraham Lincoln hanging in his office. It's known as the "cracked plate Lincoln." Taken by Alexander Gardner in February of 1865, the original photographic negative cracked spontaneously. The black line of the fissure appears in all later prints.

Historians have long mythologized the cracked plate Lincoln as representing the bitter divisions of the Civil War, and the ultimate toll that the presidency exacted upon the 16th President.

"The meaning of faces and lives are always in flux while that individual is playing out his or her life," says Goodyear. "There is an underlying connection between the making of portraits and the writing of history."

The portrait of Obama on view in the exhibit was originally part of a set that Schoeller took back when Obama was but a fast-rising and charismatic Senator. From that shoot, GQ selected and published a smiling, happy Obama. Now, says Goodyear, the images that we see of the president-elect tend to be more serious, as if to reflect the evolution of Obama's role in history.

See Schoeller's picture of Obama at the museum until September 27, 2009, and while you're there, visit the "cracked plate" Lincoln in the Portrait Gallery's "Mask of Lincoln" exhibit, until July 5, 2009.

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