We’ve Got a New Reputation to Uphold

I think our nation is on the brink of something we haven’t experienced in nearly a decade.  Our country is loosening its white-knuckle grip on the global status of “stupid Americans” or the “crazy country that elected Bush twice”.  Other nations around the world are slowly forgetting that most recent history thanks to Barack and Michelle Obama.  His foreign policy changes have been revered, he’s working to close Guantanamo, and he’s made Hugo Chavez blush.  Michelle Obama has inspired children in classrooms across the US and the UK, she’s proven that (as Barack said at the White House Correspondent’s dinner) she’s got the right to bare arms, and now she’s the unofficial arts ambassador to the White House.

Causing quite a stir, the Obamas are making calls to museums and galleries with plans to make major shifts in the art that lines the walls of the private residence of the White House.  The general plan is to move away from the still lifes and portraits of old white ladies and move toward contemporary works by African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and female artists.  The reworking of their private residences began when LA native interior designer Michael S. Smith was invited to redecorate.  From there, the phone calls began and with them the potential for a new era where the American communities of politics and arts are no longer on opposite sides of the spectrum.

So far, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington has loaned them seven works including African-American artist Alma Thomas’ “Sky Light and Watusi (Hard Edge)”.  They’ve chosen a piece in deep red with the words “I think maybe I’ll…” by Ed Ruscha, Richard Diebenkorn’s “Berkeley No. 52”, and Jasper John’s “Numerals, 0 through 9” all from the National Gallery of Art.  Their other choices so far include works by Robert Rauschenberg, Nicolas de Stael, Edgar Degas, and Josef Albers.

To get a taste of the history that goes into the artistic choices for his new digs, there’s an exhibit on view starting May 28 at the M+B Gallery in West Hollywood called “Barack Obama: The Freshman”.  The photographs, taken twenty years ago by Lisa Jack, then a student at Occidental College, were taken on one roll of film and have never been shown at a gallery until now – probably because the subject of her photographs recently became the President.  The artist admitted that after the shoot, she’d hoped that Obama would ask her out on a date.  He didn’t, but I think she’s happy with how the photos turned out anyway.  If you look closely, maybe we’ll get an idea of what goes into making some of his aesthetic choices.  All we need is an album of Michelle Obama’s photos from college.  Too bad Facebook wasn’t around then.


“Barack Obama: The Freshman” is on view from May 28 through July 18, 2009 at the M+B Gallery.  Please visit their website or call (310) 550-0050 for more information.

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