As the 2012 election season nears, political pundits of various persuasions have lately been noting the strong populist streak emerging in President Obama's recent public presentations. Now, add Monday's White House proclamation naming October as National Arts and Humanities Month.
"Norman Rockwell's magazine covers are classic and recognizable portrayals of American life," the proclamation begins, going on to describe a famous 1963 Rockwell depiction of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges being escorted into a recently desegregated school by U.S. marshals, a racist epithet scrawled on the wall behind her amid blood-like splatters of thrown tomatoes. The image was originally published as a 1964 centerfold in Look magazine. "Like Rockwell's painting, art in all its forms often challenges us to consider new perspectives and to rethink how we see the world," the proclamation continues.
The choice of Rockwell, America's favorite homespun illustrator, is a long way from the modern and contemporary art that the Obamas chose to hang in the White House in 2009. That art was widely noticed in the press for being artistically challenging. Similar to the recently installed Rockwell, enshrined not far from the Oval Office, paintings by Ed Ruscha, Susan Rothenberg and Mark Rothko were loaned for the residence.
So was Glenn Ligon's gritty 1992 “Black Like Me No. 2.” Layers of black oil-stick on white canvas recount a portion of John Howard Griffin’s controversial 1961 memoir, “Black Like Me,” in which a white author artificially darkened his skin to travel as a black man through the American South. Ligon's midcareer retrospective, "America," arrives at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Oct. 23.
You can read the entire White House proclamation here.
— Christopher Knight
Photo: Norman Rockwell, "The Problem We All Live With," 1963, oil on canvas. Credit: Norman Rockwell.