Blake Gopnik looks deeply into the list of works the Obama’s chose for the White House in the Washington Post and finds that, “it’s easy to read vexed meaning into almost every one of them.” You’ll have to read the whole essay to get to Gopnik’s close readings but he does offer this simple bit of reporting on the Obama’s intentions:
White House curator William Allman speaks of the Obamas’ borrowings as expressing “probably more interest in truly modern art” than was seen in previous administrations. But the work by Ligon takes them way beyond the modern, to territory on the vexing cutting edge of the contemporary. Hirshhorn curator Valerie Fletcher says she started out making suggestions of works that were “pretty conservative,” but when those were rejected, she proposed works she saw as “way out in left field,” such as the Ligon. When they were accepted, she says, “I was quite surprised, and impressed.”
He also explains the import of the Catlins and offers his own diversity suggestions:
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.
But there are still only six works by women, vs. 41 by men. And there are no works at all by Latinos. (A work by the deceased Cuban American artist Félix González-Torres would have filled the gap perfectly, and added a nod to the country’s gay culture. The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum has one that could have been borrowed.)
1600 Pen and Ink (Washington Post)