A Warhol for the West Wing

Mar 29, 2009 | Updated May 25, 2011

It looks like the Obamas are going to put modern and contemporary art up in the White House. This is great news.

As I wrote here a few weeks ago, it is long overdue for the White House to bring its art collection into the 21st century (or even the 20th). Installing works from contemporary artists would be good for the president. It would allow him to draw inspiration from artwork that comments directly on modern society; to contemplate, at his leisure and away from the public eye, work that brings a contemporary mindset to bear on deep philosophical and cultural issues. It would also be good for the art world, in that it would signal the President's genuine appreciation of today's artwork and increase public awareness of it.

Getting the general public to pay attention to contemporary art has probably never been more urgent. As the recent debate over the stimulus bill reminded everyone once again, the arts get short shrift when it comes to DC policy. It was just shy of a miracle that the stimulus bill included any arts funding at all, since the Senate had voted overwhelmingly for an amendment prohibiting stimulus money for museums and arts centers. (That prohibition was stripped away at the last minute by the House-Senate conference committee.) And, as art blogger Tyler Green and L.A. Times critic Christopher Knight have spelled out in compelling detail, $50 million is nowhere near enough for an industry whose nonprofit organizations alone account for 5.7 million jobs and $166.2 billion in annual economic activity.

So it's a good sign that Obama has shown an interest in contemporary art. Let's hope it extends beyond the White House walls.

Jonathan Melber is an attorney and co-author, with Heather Darcy Bhandari, of ART/WORK: Everything You Need to Know (And Do) As You Pursue Your Art Career (Free Press), a professional-development guide for visual artists. He and Heather twitter here.