Rachel Somerstein

White Canvas House

Guernica: A Magazine of Art & Politics

The artists not included in the White House’s four-hundred-and-fifty-piece permanent collection read like a greatest hits list of twentieth-century American art: Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Edward Hopper, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Joan Mitchell, Robert Rauschenberg, Ben Shahn, Andy Warhol. Women and African-American artists are represented by a paltry eleven and five works, respectively (to say nothing of Asians, Hispanics, or other minorities). Instead, the collection comprises some eighteenth- and nineteenth-century works of historical and artistic significance, like Gilbert Stuart’s 1797 portrait of George Washington; mediocre portraits and replicas of more famous depictions of Presidents, First Ladies, and once-iconic personages long lost to history (does the name Fanny Kemble ring a bell?); idealized scenes of leisure; and pastoral landscapes of American splendor, from the Hudson River Valley to the American West.

Read the full essay at Guernica: A Magazine of Art & Politics.