You may know that abstract art has made a big comeback on the art market, but how many of you know that abstractionism is also the favorite style of the presidential couple Barack and Michelle Obama? Unlike his forbearers, Barack Obama seems to be tired of looking at all those boring landscapes and stuffy portraits and that is why he decided to bring some excitement into the White House collection. Ever since he entered the office, Obama has been slowly adding abstract pieces to the residence, and although some traditionalists may be against his choice, we have to admit that there is nothing more American than the art of modernism or abstract expressionism.
Revamping the White House Walls
Even before Obamas moved to Washington their art interest was focused on contemporary art. One of their first dates was at the Art Institute of Chicago. Nevertheless, the Obama couple love story isn’t on our daily schedule and we need to focus on their art collection. Before Obamas moved to the White House, the collection comprised of more traditional American paintings, but the presidential couple decided to bridge the gap between tradition and modernity, introducing some modern American pieces, but keeping the sense of formality. Over the years, Obamas have borrowed dozens of works from various Washington museums and galleries including pieces made by by Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, and Jasper Jones among others.
Was it a good choice to place the Edward Ruscha’s piece about indecisiveness in the White House? I Think I’ll …, detail.
Obama Art Collection: A Special Focus on African-American Art
When it comes to the choice of the artworks Obamas wanted to display at the White House, the decision was motivated by their goal to diversify the collection, introducing artists from various backgrounds. The new collection is extended to include artworks created by African-American, Asian, Hispanic and female artists, focusing on the cultural diversity of the US art and history. Along with the modern masters, the collection is now richer for the works of African-American painter Alma Thomas and contemporary artist Glenn Ligon who has personally praised Obama’s decision to use art as a way of opening a dialogue between the races.
In January, the Philadelphia Museum will open “Represent: 200 Years of African American Art,” a sprawling survey of its holdings of works by black artists. Featuring 75 artworks by over 50 artists, the show’s earliest pieces include silhouettes by Moses Williams that date to 1802, pre-Civil War decorative arts by free and enslaved artists, and potter David Drake’s bible-inscribed storage jar sculpture.
“Presenting these works together now, we are mindful of the many anniversaries of the civil rights movement that have recently passed or are soon to come, and are thinking equally about the way race remains a key topic of conversation in the United States today—in politics, society, popular culture, and, of course, the arts,” said Philadelphia Museum of Art director Timothy Rub said in a statement. “This is an important moment in which to explore the historic development and continuing growth of the Museum’s collections of African American art.”
A centerpiece of the exhibition is undoubtedly Henry Ossawa Tanner’s 1898 painting titled The Annunciation, reports the Wall Street Journal. Acquired by the museum in 1899, it was the first piece by an African American artist added to its collection. The show traces black artists through many of the major movements in American art history, from Cubism with Aaron Douglas’s Birds in Flight (1927) to Modernism with works by William Henry Johnson and Elizabeth Catlett. A combination of both can be seen in the figurative painting of Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence.
Other, more contemporary, highlights include Barbara Chase-Riboud’s large-scale bronze and fiber sculpture Malcolm X #3, as well as pieces by Carrie Mae Weems, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, and Kara Walker.