Barack and Michelle Obama, working with curators at the White House and DC museums, have borrowed 47 artworks for their walls, and their selections are far more modern and discerning than their predecessors', writes Blake Gopnik. The Washington Post critic is impressed by the "surprisingly sober, even dour" choices they made, including works by Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha, and Mark Rothko. One Hirshhorn curator said they shot down several "conservative" choices she offered—the first couple wanted ambitious, aggressive works.
Even when the Obamas included a popular artist like Winslow Homer, they passed over his cheerier Americana for "a dark and gorgeous little image" of a man struggling to haul a boat. They also picked seven works by African-American artists, from a faux-naif family scene to a conceptual work by Glenn Ligon. That painting features one phrase from Black Like Me, repeated over and over and dissolving into a mess of black pigment. Gopnik's impressed but wonders how it will play: "Has Obama the art lover trumped Obama the skilled politician?"