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.
Throughout the 1960s, a decade marked by an ardent civil rights fight that swept the American nation, many artists found themselves on the side of a burgeoning protest movement. From assemblage artists to Minimalist masters to Pop Art figures, those working in a wide breadth of media turned to art as an act of political defiance. They painted, sculpted, and photographed to comment on the social turmoil that surrounded them, creating visual symbols of resistance, liberation and empowerment.
The exhibition is organized according to themes like “American Nightmare,” “Black Is Beautiful,” “Sisterhood” and “Politicizing Pop.” Staged in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the artworks on display range from Jack Whitten’s “Birmingham 1964,” an assembled homage to the violence that rocked the Alabama town, to Norman Rockwell’s “New Kids in the Neighborhood,” a fictional portrait of two black children confronting their new white neighbors in the suburbs.
Many familiar images appear in the canvases and three-dimensional installations set to fill the halls of the Brooklyn art haven this March. Philip Guston’s pink-tinted painting of three members of the Klu Klux Klan will hang near Robert Indiana’s text-heavy indictment of the confederacy, featuring a loaded image of the American South. While these artworks conjure historical memories, other pieces — like Jeff Donaldson’s “Wives of Shango” and Emma Amos’ “Three Figures” — reference self-identity and blackness, many times using the striking image of the female form, reappropriating the reclining nude or the goddess stance as a visual for change.
Check out a preview of “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties” below: