The Obamas are decorating their private spaces with more modern and abstract artwork than has ever hung on the White House walls.
Pieces by contemporary African-American and Native American artists are on display. Bold colours, odd shapes and squiggly lines have arrived. So, too, have some obscure artefacts, such as patent models for a gear cutter and a steamboat paddlewheel, which now sit in the Oval Office.
Works by big names from the modern art world – Jasper Johns and Mark Rothko – are rubbing shoulders with lesser-known artists such as Alma Thomas, an abstract painter from the 1960s and 1970s.
Thomas’s Watusi (Hard Edge) hangs in the east wing, where Michelle Obama has her offices. The acrylic on canvas, on loan from the Hirshhorn Museum, shows a jumble of geometric shapes in bright reds, blues and greens.
Glenn Ligon’s Black Like Me No 2, a Hirshhorn loan now hanging in the first family’s living quarters, is a “text painting” that reproduces words from the 1961 book Black Like Me, a non-fiction account by a white man who disguised himself as a black man and travelled through the south.
Ligon, a black artist from Brooklyn, said the painting’s theme fitted with the president’s efforts to create a dialogue between races. “It’s a really important part of what he’s about and symbolically what he’s done,” he said.
Jeri Redcorn, a 69-year-old Native American artist from Norman, Oklahoma (…)