Pandemic Diary #68

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George Washington by Gilbert Stuart in the National Portrait Gallery

December 14, 2020

Over the last four years, art has been absent in the White House. There has been no literature, no poetry, no music, and no Kennedy Center award celebrations.

I maintain a website about Public Art, I am not an art critic, I simply appreciate public art in its various iterations. This is why I look forward to a new administration in our White House and their focus on art.

Yes, it is OUR White House, and sadly over the last four years, it has not included the one scintilla of public art by its citizens.

The sitting President did not attend Kennedy Center awards once during his term. This was the first time in twenty-three years that this has occurred. Other Presidents have missed the event, in 1994 President Clinton was traveling to Budapest for a conference; President George Bush was at a summit in Malta in 1989; and in 1979, President Carter opted out due to the Iran hostage crisis, but these were aberrant circumstances. There were no dinners with famous musicians or poets, and the official White House portraits of the former President and First Lady still do not hang in their rightful place.

The White House has a long history of celebrating art. It started with presidential portraits, commissioned by or paid for by Congress, sometimes they were donated by family or friends. In the late 19th century a few landscape paintings were collected, but it was not until the Kennedy administration that the collection was permanently established. The collection now contains over 500 works of art.

This lack of attention to the arts by this administration is unprecedented. The support of the arts by the White House has never been a partisan thing. The Reagans held official concerts every few weeks, the Obama’s hosted poetry readings regularly. The Carters created a television series titled “In Performance at the White House” which lasted through the Clinton administration, the program ended in 2016.

What appears to be the only act of bringing art to the White House was one piece installed in the waning months of the administration.

The piece is titled “Floor Frame” by sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Importantly it is also the first piece by an Asian American to be featured in the White House’s art collection. I am a huge fan of Noguchi, but I still am not sure why it took 4 years to bring art to the White House.

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Floor Frame by Isamu Noguchi in the Rose Garden

Art can do many things for many people, and for many, it is a way to heal. I was so inspired by a Biden/Harris ad that ran after the election results were announced that appear to attempt to start our country on a path of healing.

It is a take on a 1983 work by Lorraine O’Grady titled “Art is…” where O’Grady captured portraits at the African American Day Parade in Harlem. That piece was born out of a project she had done nearly forty years earlier. The Biden/Harris clip features Ray Charles’ rendition of America the Beautiful, and regular folks from across our great country posing inside of picture frames.

President-elect Biden is no stranger to the concept of art for all. In 2001 he co-sponsored legislation that helped establish the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

As Vice President, he secured stimulus job funding for arts groups.

As a member of the Senate Cultural Caucus, Vice President-Elect, Kamala Harris, took part in the veto of proposed cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts. Harris also co-sponsored the bill to establish the Smithsonian National American Latino Museum.

I follow fourteen-year-old Tyler Gordon on Twitter. He is an upcoming artist and an extraordinary kid. He painted a picture of Kamala Harris, and her phone call to thank him brought such joy to all that watched it.

Image from Pinterest

In contrast, the present occupant of the White House tried for four years to defund both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, funding Congress consistently maintained

It is also hoped that the incoming administration will reinstate the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. PCAH was created in 1982 by Ronald Reagan to advise the White House on cultural issues. It was disbanded in 2017 when its members quit in protest because the present President would not condemn white supremacy.

I look forward to seeing the arts in America put back in the public conscience.

Trivial Things

San Francisco weather: 56 degrees and sunny

NYSE DOW compared to one year ago: +1938

COVID cases in the US: 16,752,408

Deaths from COVID in the US: 306,529

OED word of the day: paraselene — a bright moonlike spot on a lunar halo; a mock moon

Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 274

Reading: Been down so long it looks like up to me by Richard Farina

My Black and White Picture of the Day

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Something Silly From the Internet:

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My travel blog www.PassportandBaggage.com and my www.ArtandArchitecture-sf.com blog are quiet due to the Pandemic. I need to write, so here I go.

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