How did Obamas Change the White House with Contemporary Art ?

October 27, 2015

Well, we all know that abstract art has made a big comeback on the art market, but how many of you know that abstractionism is also the favorite style of the presidential couple Barack and Michelle Obama? Unlike his forbearers, Barack Obama seems to be tired of looking at all those boring landscapes and stuffy portraits and that is why he decided to bring some excitement into the White House collection. Ever since he entered the office, Obama has been slowly adding abstract pieces to the residence, and although some traditionalists may be against his choice, we have to admit that there is nothing more American than the art of modernism or abstract expressionism. Even CIA would approve.

Barack Obama white house art collection
Alma Thomas, Resurrection and Early Bloomer by Robert Rauschenberg at the White House Family Dining Room. Photo via

Revamping the White House Walls

Even before Obamas moved to Washington their art interest was focused on contemporary art. One of their first dates was at the Art Institute of Chicago, how romantic is that? Nevertheless, the Obama couple love story isn’t on our daily schedule and we need to focus on their art collection. Before Obamas moved to the White House, the collection comprised of more traditional American paintings, but the presidential couple decided to bridge the gap between tradition and modernity, introducing some modern American pieces, but keeping the sense of formality. Over the years, Obamas have borrowed dozens of works from various Washington museums and galleries including pieces made by Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, and Jasper Johns among others.

Browse works by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns in our marketplace!

Barack Obama white house art collection
Was it a good choice to place the Edward Ruscha's piece about indecisiveness in the White House? I Think I'll ..., detail. Photo via

Obama Art Collection: A Special Focus on African-American Art

When it comes to the choice of the artworks Obamas wanted to display at the White House, the decision was motivated by their goal to diversify the collection, introducing artists from various backgrounds. The new collection is extended to include artworks created by African-American, Asian, Hispanic and female artists, focusing on the cultural diversity of the US art and history. Along with the modern masters, the collection is now richer for the works of African-American painter Alma Thomas and contemporary artist Glenn Ligon who has personally praised Obama’s decision to use art as a way of opening a dialogue between the races.

Barack Obama white house art collection
Glenn Ligon, one of Obama's favorite contemporary artists. Photo via

Goodbye Dwight D. Eisenhower

Although White House curator’s office is responsible for the selection of the pieces which will be on display at public and private spaces of the building, the president and his family have the full authority when it comes to the final choice. How else would George W. Bush be allowed to display the awful racing cowboy painting in the Oval Office? Fortunately, the art taste of George W. Bush has left the building, along with his political idols. One of the first things Obama did when he became president is to replace the portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of Bush’s favorites, with the portrait of his own role model - president Harry S. Truman. The revamping of the White House continues, and what will the next president bring to the residence is to be seen next year. One thing is certain, however. If Trump is to be the next president, all those cultural diversity efforts of the Obama couple will definitely vanish from the collection.

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Featured image:

President Obama Meets With Norman Rockwell Museum Staff at White House. Photo via