The D.C. Docent

Politico: Obama's Rockwellian Statement

What do our art choices and tastes say about us? In the lead up to the (e)merge Art Fair next week, you’ll notice a number of articles I’ll be linking to this week about local DC art collectors and the artists they collect, the choices they make in building their collections. President Obama is lucky enough to have a MASSIVE repository of government-collected art at his fingertips, although his most recent acquisition is on loan from the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

A few weeks ago, POLITICO featured his decision earlier this summer to hang The Problem We All Live With (1964) by Norman Rockwell just outside the Oval Office. Generally acknowledged as one of the more confrontational works of social commentary that Rockwell created in the latter half of his career, it depicts a young African-American schoolgirl dressed in white being escorted by four faceless U.S. Marshals in suits and in lockstep. The wall behind her is scrawled with the “n word”, “KKK” and splattered with tomatoes. Our perspective is from that of the crowd, cheering and jeering, throwing tomatoes, or simply watching. Rockwell’s painting is based on the real life experience of Ruby Bridges, who as a 6-year old girl was marched into a New Orleans public school as part of court-ordered integration in the 60’s.

So what does it say about the President, that he would choose this piece (not from the collections he has access to through the Smithsonian and others) which stands 3 feet high and five feet wide, and place it in one of the most prominent locations in the West Wing? Well, Politico tries to get at that, but never really answers the question, which in my mind makes the President’s choice all the more interesting.