Friday, May 22, 2009

Changing the Art on the White House Walls

Hat tip: Angelar

There are small and big changes with the Obamas being in The White House.

From The Wall Street Journal:
Changing the Art on the White House Walls

Barack Obama is taking on health care, financial regulation, torture and environmental policy. He’s also revamping the White House art collection.

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.

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.


The Obamas began their art hunt shortly after the November election, says White House curator William Allman. Michael Smith, a Los Angeles-based decorator hired by the Obamas to redo their private quarters, worked with Mr. Allman, White House social secretary Desirée Rogers and others on the Obama transition team to determine which works would make the Obamas feel at home in Washington.

Mr. Smith and Mrs. Obama made a wish list of about 40 artists and asked for potential loans in a letter to the Hirshhorn, according to Kerry Brougher, the museum’s deputy director and chief curator. Mr. Brougher says Mr. Smith insisted any loans be plucked from the museum’s storage collection and not pulled off gallery walls.


Currently, the roughly 450-piece permanent collection includes five works by black artists: the Clinton portraits by Mr. Knox; “The Builders” by Lawrence ; “Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City” by Henry Ossawa Tanner, which hangs in the Green Room and was purchased at Hillary Clinton’s urging in 1995; and “The Farm Landing,” a tranquil landscape painted in 1892 by Rhode Island artist Edward Bannister, purchased with donations in 2006.

The White House may also temporarily cull works from museums, galleries and collectors to display in either the private residence or public rooms. Presidents must return loans at the end of their final term.

Many of the same deep-pocketed collectors who helped Mr. Obama fund his presidential campaign are now offering works. E.T. Williams, a New York collector of African-American art who has sat on museum boards including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is among the would-be donors.

Earlier this month, Mr. Williams, a retired banker and real estate investor, strolled through his Manhattan apartment and stopped in front of the jewel of his collection, a smoky-hued portrait of a man in a fedora by Lois Mailou Jones. The painting is appraised at $150,000 but he says he would happily donate it to the White House permanent collection. He also says the Obamas can “borrow anything they like” from his collection, which includes works by Romare Bearden and Hale Woodruff.

Mr. Williams says that although a loan or donation to the White House could boost his collection’s profile, his offer is motivated by a desire to support the president. A White House spokeswoman says that any potential donations to the permanent collection must go through the curator’s office.

African-American collectors, in particular, snapped to attention when word spread that Mr. Obama might want to borrow art, says Bridgette McCullough Alexander, a Chicago art advisor who went to high school with the first lady. She says some of her collector clients have expressed interest in loaning works to the White House.

“For collectors, it was as if a call went out that the Obamas needed to fill their fridge. The grocery list of artists just rolled out,” she says.

Complete article at link above.

I liked this article, because it was something I hadn't thought of with regards to the Obamas.

No comments: