Who spotted the art in this viral video of Michelle Obama?

When a two-year-old art lover visited Michelle’s office, we all got a peek at the former First Lady’s art collection and it includes some great pieces by Phaidon artists Kerry James Marshall and Theaster Gates
One of Theaster Gates' fire-hose works can be seen behind this Instagram post of Michelle Obama and Parker Curry. Image courtesy of Mrs Obama's Instagram
One of Theaster Gates' fire-hose works can be seen behind this Instagram post of Michelle Obama and Parker Curry. Image courtesy of Mrs Obama's Instagram

Parker Curry knows what it means to be moved by art. An image of the two-year-old girl, staring in rapture at former First Lady Michelle Obama’s official portrait in Washington’s National Portrait Gallery, was picked up by the Post, CNN, Buzzfeed and other major news outlets.

However, she may not have been able to take in all the fine artworks on show when she visited Michelle’s offices earlier this month. The First Lady invited Parker over to hang out, talk and enjoy a dance to Taylor Swift’s hit song, Shake It Off. Parker was the main draw in the accompanying social media posts, however, sharp-eyed contemporary art lovers will have noticed a couple of other famous names in the images Obama put up on Instagram.



One of Theaster Gates's hose-pipe collages hangs on the wall behind Parker and Michelle. As the art historian Lisa Yun Lee explains in our book, while these framed, striped works resemble one of Frank Stella’s early abstract paintings, “it is virtually impossible to view these works without also remembering the infamous image from the civil rights struggle of peaceful demonstrators being blasted by water from fire hoses.”



There are happier images on show in Mrs Obama’s office, too. Take, for example, the Kerry James Marshall painting that can be seen reflected in the mirror in this video (second image, above).

The work comes from a lovely, yet surprisingly instructive series called Vignettes, in which Marshall explored a genteel, pictorial Rococo style of painting, while – crucially – substituting the white sitters in that old European style of art with black subjects.

“In pictorially disabusing other Americans of the pure white delusion purveyed on museum walls,” writes critic Greg Tate in our book on the artist, “Marshall has extended our movement for justice to the art-historical and art-institutional arena.”

Two-year-old Parker may not have picked up on all this during her trip to Michelle’s office, yet, if Mrs. Obama, Marshall and Gates have anything to do with it, she may not have to worry about representation and civil rights abuses so much once she’s an adult gallery patron.

For more on Theaster Gates get this book; for greater insight into Kerry James Marshall and to see many more of his Vignettes and much else besides, order a copy of this book.

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Phaidon is the premier global publisher of the creative arts with over 1,500 titles in print. We work with the world's most influential artists, chefs, writers and thinkers to produce innovative books on art, photography, design, architecture, fashion, food and travel, and illustrated books for children. Phaidon is headquartered in London and New York City.
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