Decorating the White House with Smithsonian Art

Continuing a Washington tradition, the Obamas selected artwork from the Smithsonian collections to hang in their historic home

The tradition of Smithsonian museums loaning art to the White House began in the 1940s. (iStockphoto)


Black Like Me 2
(Maura McCarthy)

Glenn Ligon
Paint stick and acrylic gesso on canvas
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

“Glenn Ligon is a very interesting artist who has managed to bridge conceptual art of the 1960s with art that has a social conscience to it,” says Kerry Brougher, chief curator and deputy director of the Hirshhorn. “What he often does in his pieces is to take text, say from novels, and pick lines from that text and run it over the canvas until it becomes abstract in a way.” For this piece, Ligon employs a line from John Howard Griffin’s 1961 memoir, Black Like Me, in which Griffin, a white American author, wrote about how he artificially darkened his skin to travel in the South as a black man. The phrase “All traces of the Griffin I had been were wiped from existence,” repeats in all caps on the canvas, slowly overlapping until the words disappear into black.


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