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Earlier this week, D.C. Art News scribe Lenny Campello and Seattle Post-Intelligencer art critic Regina Hackett hashed out the significance of this lede by the Washington Post‘s Jacqueline Trescott in a piece about artist Jacob Lawrence:
In its recent renovation of the Green Room, the White House has given a place of honor to a newly acquired masterpiece by Jacob Lawrence, one of the greatest African American artists of the 20th century.
Why the “African American” qualifier? Hackett fires, “Because white appears to be this writer’s assumed context, she notes only difference, black as a special case.”
Jacob Lawrence, The Builders, 1947. Tempera on board.
Campello and Hackett has since moved on to squabbling over whether Lawrence was a nice guy. But here’s a question: Is the painting a special case?
In the context of the august halls of the White House, most definitely. A phone call to the office of Betty Monkman, the curator of the White House, reveals that, while Lawrence’s painting isn’t the sole piece by a black artist in the executive mansion, it’s close to it—-there are only two others. A decade ago, there weren’t any. Henry Ossawa Tanner‘s Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City (1885) also hangs in the Green Room, its home since 1996. And an 1892 painting by one “Bannister” (they likely mean Ed Bannister) acquired last year is currently undergoing conservation. That’s three of an estimated 375 total in the White House’s art collection.