White House Art

As I head off to DC I am reminded an article, Changing the Art on The White House Walls in the Wall Street Journal. I was intrigued and thrilled as it was another indication of how their choices and actions impact the rest of the world, in this case, the art world.

here are a few excerpts..by Amy Chozik and Kelly Crow

"The Obamas are sending ripples through the art world as they put the call out to museums, galleries and private collectors that they’d like to borrow modern art by African-American, Asian, Hispanic and female artists for the White House. In a sharp departure from the 19th-century still lifes, pastorals and portraits that dominate the White House’s public rooms, they are choosing bold, abstract art works.

National Gallery of Art, Washington
The Obamas have borrowed Ed Ruscha’s ‘I Think I’ll...’ (1983) from the National Gallery.

History of White House Art

The overhaul is an important event for the art market. The Obamas’ art choices could affect the market values of the works and artists they decide to display. Museums and collectors have been moving quickly to offer up works for inclusion in the iconic space.

Their choices also, inevitably, have political implications, and could serve as a savvy tool to drive the ongoing message of a more inclusive administration. The Clintons received political praise after they selected Simmie Knox, an African-American artist from Alabama, to paint their official portraits. The Bush administration garnered approval for acquiring “The Builders,” a painting by African-American artist Jacob Lawrence, but also some criticism for the picture, which depicts black men doing menial labor.

Last week the first family installed seven works on loan from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington in the White House’s private residence, including “Sky Light” and “Watusi (Hard Edge),” a pair of blue and yellow abstracts by lesser-known African-American abstract artist Alma Thomas, acclaimed for her post-war paintings of geometric shapes in cheery colors.

Obamas Cast a Wider Net for Art

The Obamas are looking to update the storied White House art collection to include modern art and work by minorities and women. Washington reporters Amy Chozick and art reporter Kelly Crow explain.
The National Gallery of Art has loaned the family at least five works this year, including “Numerals, 0 through 9,” a lead relief sculpture by Jasper Johns, “Berkeley No. 52,” a splashy large-scale painting by Richard Diebenkorn, and a blood-red Edward Ruscha canvas featuring the words, “I think maybe I’ll…,” fitting for a president known for lengthy bouts of contemplation. The Jasper Johns sculpture was installed in the residence on Inauguration Day, along with modern works by Robert Rauschenberg and Louise Nevelson, also on loan from the National Gallery.

Collectors say the art picks by the Obamas will likely affect the artists’ market values—or at least raise their profiles. After George W. Bush displayed El Paso, Texas-born artist Tom Lea’s “Rio Grande,” a photorealistic view of a cactus set against gray clouds, in the Oval Office, the price of the artist’s paintings shot up roughly 300%, says Adair Margo, owner of an El Paso gallery that sells Mr. Lea’s work. (Mr. Lea passed away in 2001, which also boosted the value of his work.)

A White House spokeswoman says the Obamas enjoy all types of art but want to “round out the permanent collection” and “give new voices” to modern American artists of all races and backgrounds.

The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn
The Obamas have borrowed Richard Diebenkorn’s abstract ‘Berkeley No. 52.’

The changes in White House art come as the Obama administration seeks to boost arts funding. Mr. Obama included $50 million in his economic stimulus package for the National Endowment for the Arts and on Monday Mrs. Obama delivered remarks at the reopening of the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art."