Friday, May 22, 2009

Affirmative action for White House art

"Government's Helping Hand" — Sculpture
to be borrowed for White House lawn

The Obamas may or may not know anything about art, but they know what they like.

The Wall Street Journal reports:
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. … Their choices also, inevitably, have political implications, and could serve as a savvy tool to drive the ongoing message of a more inclusive administration. …

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.
I can make no quality judgments about the new artwork for the Obamas' house beautiful, not having seen it. But this newer, cooler White House prompts a couple of observations, to wit:

1. The head of a nation ought to understand that his personal tastes are not the only thing that counts in such a situation. Tradition matters where a head of state lives and works. Nineteenth century landscapes by painters of the Hudson River school or Albert Bierstadt or whoever probably mean nothing (other than embarrassing relics of an oppressive society) to the Obamas, but most Americans understand them as part of their heritage.
Steve Stuart, an amateur historian who has been studying the White House for three decades, thinks the Obamas needn’t be overly bound by tradition. “You shouldn’t have to look at Mrs. Hoover’s face over your bed for four years if you don’t want to,” he says.
It is highly unlikely that there is a portrait of Mrs. Hoover anywhere in the White House, the snickering of "amateur historian" Steve Stuart notwithstanding. But why should there not be? She was the First Lady of a lawfully elected president, every bit as legitimate as Michelle the Wrestler.

The president and first lady are entitled to tweak the decor in the executive mansion by adding a few items to personalize it, but not to rewrite the script. The White House isn't "about" Mr. and Mrs. Obama, although they no doubt believe it is, along with everything else.

2. The new choices' political or ideological message is that white male artists are Out. Multi-culti is In. I do not believe there has ever before been a president who redecorated the White House to make a political point. Leave it to Obama to be the first. Soft totalitarianism marches on. In this, as in so many other things, he is signaling that he is not the president for all Americans, only those who pass his prejudiced racial and gender test.



David said...

I wonder if the "amateur historian" knows anything about the real Mrs Hoover.

I have a copy of Agricola's De Re Metallica, a 16th century handbook on mining and metallurgy, translated from Latin by....Lou and Herbert Hoover.

I also wonder how many of our recent presidents and first ladies have had sufficient interest in any aspect of life (other than the politics and the acquisition of personal power) to undertake a project like this?

Lawrence Auster said...

Rick, where do news reports say that that sculpture of a giant fist is going to be installed on the White House lawn? I see no reference to that.

Rick Darby said...


The picture is just my little joke.

Lawrence Auster said...

You had me going ...

Rick Darby said...


My postings tend to be a mixture of fact, commentary, and satire. As things are these days, it can be hard to distinguish between fact and satire.

LaValle said...

Let's see...
Richard Diebenkorn
Ed Ruscha
Jasper Johns
Edgar Degas
They all seem pretty much like white males to me.