Inside President Obama’s Art Collection That...

Inside President Obama’s Art Collection That Changed The White House History

president_obama edward hopper white house history

President Obama viewing Edward Hopper. Photo: The Whitney Museum of Art

Barack Obama, and his family, brought a new style to White House history, which notably began with his unique campaign in 2008 using Pop Art and social media. The President frequently hobnobbed with celebrities and people of interest, even giving a shout-out to Jay-Z during his 2013 correspondence dinner.

Although the Obamas’ life in the public eye was frequently discussed, not as much attention was brought to their private lives. It’s interesting how they made the White House their home behind closed doors—tailoring this partially public space in the nation’s capital to become reflective of both their family and modern times. The Obamas worked with decorator Michael Smith and White House curator William Allman to procure modern and contemporary art for their new home, becoming the first presidential family to select works from this genre with a remarkably diverse list of artists.

early bloomer anagram a pun robert rauschenberg white house history

“Early Bloomer [Anagram (A Pun)], Robert Rauschenberg. Photo: Rauschenberg Foundation

In the family dining room, a public room where the President often hosts official dinners and working meals with foreign leaders, a white-gloved portrait of Edith Carrow Roosevelt hung beside the table pre-Obama. POTUS replaced this with Early Bloomer [Anagram (A Pun)], an abstract piece by Robert Rauschenberg, which just hints at the American flag.

President Obama also acquired two Edward Hopper pieces on loan from the Whitney Museum of American Art, Cobbs Barn, South Truro and Cobb’s Barn House, South Truro, to hang in the Oval Office. Again, distinctly American Modern pieces. As the first presidential family to acquire African American painters for the White House collection, the Obamas chose pieces from Alma Thomas, William H Johnson and Glenn Ligon. It seems that they also didn’t neglect to have some fun—Ed Ruscha’s I Think I’ll… is a contemporary piece that touches upon a person’s indecisive nature. After all, POTUS is human too!

I Think I'll... Ed Ruscha White House History

“I Think I’ll…” Ed Ruscha. Photo: LA Times

Obama’s presidency might be comparatively fleeting in the scope of White House history and future, but hopefully his modern aesthetic touch leaves a permanent mark on its past conventions.

Here are some more works POTUS acquired, as we look back on Obama’s presidency:

"Skylight" by Alma Thomas bruvu white house history

“Skylight,” Alma Thomas. Photo: Bruvu

red band mark rothko white house history

“Red Band,” Mark Rothko. Photo: National Gallery of Art

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“Bear Lake, New Mexico,” Georgia O’Keeffe. Photo: Google Cultural Institute


“Hope”, Barack Obama Presidential Campaign Poster. Shepard Fairey


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Rebecca is a native New Yorker with a passion for aesthetic beauty and a particular love for interior design. After earning her BA in Communications from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., she landed in Greenpoint, Brooklyn where she resides today. She is a tea enthusiast and curious critter.