Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Modern Art Work & The Obamas

Every modern first lady shows interest in the arts with some being avid fans of a particular form or style.  Jackie Kennedy loved the ballet with an exquisite eye for centuries old antiques while beautiful photographs adorned her private space.  Lady Bird Johnson loved wildflowers, especially those indigenous to Texas, while kick-starting forerunners to environmental projects focusing along highways.   Michelle Obama has eclectic taste and is being ecumenical in her choices for the residence.  When a new first family moves in and during their tenure, the nation's museums are open for them to select what they want to display on the their private residence walls in addition to what is available from the White House Art Collection replete with 18th & 19th century artists.  Laura Bush was quite fond of the impressionist Claude Monet's tranquil water scene gifted to the White House by the family of JFK.  She chose to have it in the West Sitting Hall right across from the door to the Master Bedroom where she could look at it while reading or chatting on the phone.  Hillary worked hard to innovate with a sculpture garden with annual exhibits during her stay as first lady.  (Monet in White House private collection courtesy George W. Bush archives)

Alma Thomas (1891 -1971) an abstract artist who was the first African American to earn a 1971 solo exhibit at the prestigious Whitney museum Art of (Hard Edge), Watusi (completed in 1963) is one of the paintings the Obamas placed in the residence. The other abstract from this artist is named Skylight.

President Obama, Malia & Michelle watch the video montage on the modern artists while in Paris at the  museum known as the Pompidou in June 2009.  Photo courtesy of the White House.

The President & Mrs. Obama made some modern choices for their walls.  Modern art is a theme shown over the past few months with a trip to the Pompidou Centre or the Centre Georges Pompidou during time in Paris.  The Kandinsky Exhibit was quite fun Mom & Dad, but for Sasha & Malia they got to try their hand at making art based on the Alexander Calder (1898 - 1976) exhibit.  It is part of the experience for all children visiting that section of the museum. Wonder what Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky (1866 - 1944) would think.

Richard Diebenkorn (1922 -1993) painted Berkeley No.52 circa 1955.  The colorful abstract has a place of honor at the Obamas. 
Art is a theme throughout the young tenure of the Obama presidency.  Thursday starts the First Couples foray as hosts entertaining heads of state.  A philanthropist married to a United States senator will entertain the Obamas and their guest at her Rosemont Farm.  Teresa Heinz Kerry just missed being a first lady, but 2004 is where Barack Obama came into prominence with the American public.  The Farm will supply the vegetables and meets in a true locavore element that pleases Michelle Obama, though she will not be photographed (today) picking the greens and vegetables herself.  Gardens are a form of art to her. While the spouses negotiate, the first lady will host a tour for the  G-20 spouses (mostly wives) at the Andy Warhol Museum complete with a spectacular luncheon in Pittsburgh.  Prior, the tour will hear more art performed by students, Yo-Yo Ma (performed at the inaugural), Trisha Yearwood and Sarah Bareilles.  An interesting choice of Warhol (Andrew Warhola 1928 - 1987) given the need to treat the international honored guests to sophisticated Americana known as pop art and Warhol was born in Pittsburgh.  President Jimmy Carter feted Warhol in the White house in the 1970s where Warhol presented an art piece that was a rendering of the president.  Warhol has many pieces that explore erotica as well.  Its fraught with interest because the tour will have a climatic ending as one of Warhol's time capsules is due to be opened.  Ought to be quite the topic over lunch - even with all the translators.

Ed Ruscha (born 1937) titled this hip 1983 piece I Think I'll...  This pop art piece particularly underscores the modern element to the Obama's tastes.  Since 1964, Ruscha paints words into many of his paintings.  Sometimes they are satirical and often with touches of humor.
Upon their return to the White House, the splendor of the choices of the  Obamas own artwork will reign supreme.  Michelle will enjoy the serenity of the art for a few days before taking off to Copenhagen next week to champion Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics.  Not one, but two paintings depicting Homage to the Square from Josef Albers (1888 - 1976) adorn the walls at the White House on loan from the Hirshorn Collection.  Albers was also a poet. The painting pictured left is Homage to the Square:  Midday and completed sometime between 1954 - 1957. The painting for the Homage series started in 1949.  Like abstract artist Alma Thomas shown above, Josef Albers was also a teacher.  Upon retirements, they both dedicated the remainder of their lives to their art works. (Photo courtesy The Independent)

A definite nod was given to winner of a 2005 Alphonse Fletcher Foundation Fellowship Glenn Ligon (1960 -) who painted Black Like Me #2  (1992) who is just a year younger than the president.  Again, continuity reaches through the Obama art pieces as Ligon like Albers uses words and paints in acrylic on canvas.  Ligon who is openly gay and an African American from New York has juxtaposed family albums with old school gay porn in one piece.  It is part of the art that many artists of vintage and antiquity along with their modern counterparts push the edges during their times. 

Glenn Ligon's piece on loan to the First Family.
It's fascinating to review a couple of the choices the Obamas have to look at during their home life.  For traditionalists, there is the Edgar Degas bronze figure of Dancer Putting on Her Stocking, a Cézanne (1839 - 1906), yet they mesh with Jaspers Johns lead relief of Numerals, 0-9. Michelle has a wide range of tastes and its reflected in the art selection and her personal style that is not totally dependent on the old masters.  Another voice in the selection of modern and abstract art pieces is the Obama interior designer, Michael Smith of Santa Monica who also worked with the White House curator William Allman.

Another young talented but terribly depressed artist met an untimely death by suicide.  In fifteen years Nicolas de Staël (1914 -1955) produced over a thousand paintings including many abstract landscapes. This painting is entitled Nice completed in 1954.


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