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Nearly three decades after Zoe Leonard wrote her iconic “I Want a President” poem in response to Eileen Myles’s presidential bid alongside George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot, the text remains an important reminder of the role art and artists can play in defining and shaping civic life.

In an important national election year, Leonard’s seminal work holds a profound new resonance, raising important questions about what we seek in leadership and who we trust to represent our individual and collective interests. Leonard and Myles come together with Helen Molesworth, curator of contemporary art, for a wide-ranging discussion about their life and work and offer insight into our current moment.

I Want a President has been on view in Manifesto: Art x Agency, an exhibition that explores how artists used manifestos to engage with the political and social issues of their time and how contemporary practices still employ art as a tool in the making of history.

About the Speakers

New York-based artist Zoe Leonard balances rigorous conceptualism with a distinctly personal vision in her work, which merges photography, sculpture, and installation. By employing strategies of repetition, shifting perspectives, and a multitude of printing processes, Leonard’s practice probes the politics of representation and display. Leonard explores themes such as gender and sexuality, loss and mourning, migration, displacement, and the urban landscape. Her photography specifically invites us to contemplate the role that the medium plays in constructing history, and to consider the roots of contemporary photographic culture. More than its focus on any particular subject, however, Leonard’s work encourages the viewer to reconsider the act of looking itself, drawing attention to observation as a complex, ongoing process.

Eileen Myles (they/them) came to New York from Boston in 1974 to be a poet, subsequently novelist, public talker and art journalist. Their 22 books include For Now, a talk/essay about writing, Afterglow, I Must Be Living Twice/new & selected poems, and Chelsea Girls. In 1992 Eileen conducted an openly female write in campaign for President, campaigning in 28 states and numerous foreign countries. Their campaign has been represented since 1997 in Do It, travelling to museums all over the world. Myles is the recipient of many grants and awards including a Guggenheim, an award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and in 2016, they received the Clark Prize for excellence in art writing. In 2020 they received the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement in LGBT writing from the Publishing Triangle. They live in New York and Marfa, TX.

CART (real-time captioning) will be provided for this program. If you have any questions about accessibility for this program, please email

This program was made possible with production support from Tanya Selvaratnam.

This event is also part of #HirshhornInsideOut, the Museum’s initiative to bring art into your home. This virtual event is part of Talking to Our Time, the Hirshhorn’s online series of free artist talks featuring a diverse group of artists and collectives. View all events!

This program will be recorded and made available following the event. You will find it on this page and on our YouTube channel.


Image: Zoe Leonard, I Want A President, 1992