Jackie O was the first to organize the White House art collection in earnest, pulling together pieces as her husband won the hearts of a nation. JFK and Jackie may have promised the world, unflappable through every scandal, the model modern man and wife, but the sixties brought with it abstraction, chaos, an embrace of messier, more open lives and hard, dark art.
The trend was never better embodied than when JFK himself later graced the House’s walls, his brain splattered across tarmac in Corbett’s abstract “Washington, D.C. November 1963 III”.
Johson hated his portrait, calling it “the ugliest thing” he ever saw (must have missed Phan Thi Kim Phuc’s childhood photos). His White House inherited Porfirio Salinas’ cacti-strewn canvasses, but “Rocky Creek” was meant for JFK. An inherited heirloom for a replacement president; another hold-over for LBJ to take over.
A war which wasn’t his to fight, a nation which wasn’t his to run.
For Tricky Dicky another portrait, but not his own; during Nixon’s presidency the White House acquired Shikler’s iconic portrayal of JFK.
A scowling face to look down on Richard,
the One Who Got Caught™.
Reagan brought glossy portraits of cowboys and Indians to the White House; cheap evocations of a past that must have seemed plenty real to a former screen cowboy whose memory took early retirement when he took office. Ron would have loved Russian hackers and The Donald; cartoon villains and heroes locked in battle as savages wait out of frame with their bow and arrows, machetes and balaclavas.
As For Clinton, a woman’s touch (as usual).
First lady Hilary is credited with bringing O’Keefe, a rare female artist, into the president’s abode. Here’s hoping O’Keefe’s delicate flower didn’t acquire any cigar burns during its tenure; the Crime Bill seems a dark enough mark to leave on the White House.
As always Bush is too easy; Too big to fail.
The Texan adorned the Oval Office with “A Charge to Keep”, a born again Christian’s loving portrait of a cowboy riding into the mountains. Manifest destiny embodied in oil paints and oil wars; Bush ensured he was immortalized as the good old boy and duke of hazard, struggling with his poncho as if Trump’s rainy inauguration were his own Hurricane Katrina.
Obama installs Rothko; abstract, expen$ive, clever — Red Republicans and Blue Democrats are muddled together here on one thin canvas, each monolithic block as meaningless as the other.
An empty gesture, costing everything and signifying nothing;
a useless, broken promise and heart.
For Trump, a playground insult from the world of highbrow art curation. This one comes courtesy of the Guggenheim, uber-wealthy old money used to dealing with Trump’s brand of nouveau riche. Melania requests a Van Gogh; instead her husband's offered this sculpture, a gold-plated toilet entitled “America” (that famous high art subtlety). Trump has yet to accept the sculpture but whether it fits the White House or not, a gold toilet couldn’t be more at home than in the Trump Tower penthouse.
— Cathal Gunning