The presidential artistic choices

From the moment that John Adams, the 2nd President of the United States, took the White House, there was a concern to decorate the space with artworks, although always with relatively safe and traditional choices such as historical paintings, landscapes, and of course, portraits. The truth is that art does change slowly in the White House, and that most of the sculptures and objects on display are part of the White House’s permanent art collection, which also includes more than 500 paintings.

‘Yes we can’

The arrival of the Obamas to the presidency changed not only the World, but also the internal guidelines of the White House, which included, curiously, a turning point in the artistic options for decoration, by adding contemporary and abstract paitings to the traditional art collection. Now, the White House Art Collection includes works by Alma Thomas, Edward Hopper, Josef Albers, Mark Rothko or Robert Rauschenberg. Although the focus remains in american artists, the collection now presents authors of the 21st century.

Burly Cobb’s House, South Truro, by Edward Hopper

Burly Cobb’s House, South Truro, by Edward Hopper

The presidential preferences

When a new President takes office, the curatorial team selects which artworks should be displayed at the public and private spaces of the White House. This does not mean that the President and the First Lady do not specify what they want, and that they don’t take advantage of it.

George W. Bush insisted on exhibiting the artwork “A Charge to Keep” by WHD Koerner at the Oval Office, Ronald Reagan incorporated a portrait of Calvin Coolidge at the Cabinet Room, Hillary Clinton the “Bear Lake, New Mexico” by Georgia O’Keeffe at the Green Room, and her successor, Laura Bush, a work from 1947 entitled” “The Builders”, also at the Green Room. For the Obamas, the discussion focused on their preferences for abstract paintings, although they have kept intact some of the White House classics, like the portrait of George Washington over the fireplace at the Oval Office, or the one from Abraham Lincoln at the same space.

The official presentation of the renewed ‘Old Family Dining Room’

In February, Michelle Obama unveiled the renewed ‘Old Family Dining Room’, a space used for smaller official dinners and working meals with foreign leaders. Instead of the portrait of Edith Carow Roosevelt, dated from 1902, urges now an artwork by Rauschenberg, and a large mirror replaces the portrait of the Presidente Grover Cleveland’s wife. The rest of the walls are decorated with abstract art.

Old Family Dining Room in 2009

Old Family Dining Room in 2009


Old Family Dining Room com o Presidente Barack Obama

Old Family Dining Room with the Presidente Barack Obama

Out of the sight of tourists, the Obamas installed more than a dozen pieces of contemporary art and Hard Edge artworks.