October 8, 2009
Michelle Obama brings change in artistic taste to the White House
Giles Whittell in Washington
“Maybe yes … Wait a minute … On second thought … Maybe no.” It’s art, not policy, but the indecision written across the blood-red canvas by Ed Ruscha that now hangs in the White House could not reflect more accurately the agonising search for a new US strategy in Afghanistan being led by President Obama.
The Ruscha canvas is one of 47 works of art chosen by Michelle Obama for the offices and private quarters of the White House. Unveiled this week, they form a strikingly modern and political collection that sends one clear message to the Obamas’ visitors: whether or not change is coming to America, it has come to the executive mansion.
Still lifes and landscapes are out. Folk art, conceptual art, Native American art and African American art are in. Drawn mainly from the vaults of three Washington museums, the collection includes four scenes by William H. Johnson, a black painter who trained in Scandinavia in the 1930s, and a pottery bottle by Jeri Redcorn, descended from the Caddo Indians, who said she screamed with joy when she learnt that her work had found its way on to a shelf in the Oval Office.