The Mike Pence Fly and Art History

The fly that landed on Vice President Mike Pence’s head last night during the debate has been making news (and memes) for the past 12 hours … but while it was surprising to see a fly land on Pence’s head and stay there for approximately 2 minutes, there’s some art historical precedence for flies making unexpected appearances and staying around a lot longer … scroll down below the picture to read more.

Mike Pence fly and flies in art history

In addition to the fly in Mike Pence’s hair above left, we have a fly on a painting by an unknown 15th Century painter, as seen in the middle, and a fly on a Jackson Pollock painting, as seen on the right. I’ve heard some people say that they assumed the fly on Mike Pence’s head last night was actually on the surface of their tv screen, and they went looking for a fly swatter. The unknown artist who painted “Portrait of a Woman of the Hofer Family” (1470) may have wanted to trick his audience in the same way – the portrait as a whole seems like a traditional portrait, so one might think a fly has landed on the canvas. But in fact, it’s painted there … learn more about this odd painting in our Arts Investigation here.

In the case of the Jackson Pollock painting, we learned about that on a visit to MoMA a few years ago to hear a lecture by the Chief Conservator James Coddington. The museum was in the process of cleaning and conserving 3 canvases by Jackson Pollock in their permanent collection, and in doing so, they found a fly embedded in the paint of “One: Number 31” (1950). Think about it, Pollock was painting in his studio, dripping wet paint over the canvas … is it that odd to think that a fly might land on the wet paint and get stuck?

Back to our point about the time … in the case of Mike Pence, the fly had its fleeting moment of tv coverage for about two minutes. But in the case of the Pollock painting, that fly was part of a famous painting for over 60 years, and in the case of the Hofer Portrait, that fly has been in the spotlight for 550 years!

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