October 05, 2009

Obamas choose Native art

White House Selects Art to Grace Private Residence, Offices

By Jacqueline TrescottThe White House on Tuesday released a list of 45 artworks that first lady Michelle Obama, working with curators from the White House and area museums, has selected for the private residence, the offices in the West Wing and East Wing. They are all loans, the White House said.

The choices, which provide the first inkling of the Obamas' artistic taste, are not a survey of American or European art but concentrate mainly on artists who are well known and mainstream. In the residence, for example, are 11 pieces by George Catlin, the American 19th-century painter who specialized in Native American scenes. There are also three works by Josef Albers, the German-born American artist who fled Germany when Hitler closed down the Bauhaus art school; he went on to paint seminal "square" abstractions that were hugely influential on American abstraction. Also acquired are four pieces by William H. Johnson, the 20th-century African American artist whose work ranged from vivid landscapes to scenes of ordinary people.

In addition, the Oval Office is now home to a patent model of Samuel F. B. Morse's telegraph, on loan from the National Museum of American History, as well as several examples of Native American pottery.

The inclusion of almost a dozen pieces by Catlin is sure to reopen the debate that always accompanies his work, namely whether it was a sincere homage to the Native American or a touristy view.
1600 Penn and Ink

Obamas' Choice of Works On Loan to White House Reflects a Discerning Eye

By Blake Gopnik
Working with curators at the White House and at the local museums that made loans, the First Couple selected some works whose politics are explicit, and mild. They seem to redress past imbalances in the nation's sense of its own art. There are works by African Americans (seven paintings from three artists, out of a total of 47) and by Native Americans (four artists contributed three modern ceramics and one abstract painting). There are also 12 paintings depicting Native Americans, by the 19th-century ethnographic artist George Catlin.And:As for the Catlin Indians, should we think of them as a positive nod to the original peoples of this continent, or are they all about a white colonialist gawking at exotic conquered peoples? Paul Chaat Smith, who curates contemporary art at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, says that even he and other native peoples aren't sure of the answer. "They're not us, they're not for us," he says, but they're also "part of how we think about ourselves."Art at the White House  [slide show]

With the help of museum curators, first lady Michelle Obama has chosen 45 pieces of art to grace the walls of the White House private residence and offices.

Below:  Buffalo Bill's Back Fat by George Catlin.

No comments: