The Obamas and The Albers
As President's Day approaches this Monday, we look back at Michelle and Barack’s admiration for Anni and Josef
Back in 2008, shortly after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, he and his wife, Michelle, selected art they wanted to borrow from the Smithsonian to hang in the White House.
“This was a well-established tradition, but the Obamas’ taste was not traditional,” writes Nicholas Fox Weber, executive director of the Albers Foundation, in his book Anni & Josef Albers. “Among other things, they chose, at the Hirshhorn Museum, two of Josef’s Homages to hang in the family dining room. Michelle Obama would later say that ‘we simply love looking at those Albers paintings during dinner.’”
The pieces were an apt choice for Barack and Michelle. Just like the Obamas, Anni and Josef were a devoted couple, whose professional lives seamlessly intermeshed with their personal commitments.
Indeed, Weber felt the pairing was so perfect, he insisted that works by the Albers were added to the White House’s own collection, and gifted works from the Foundation’s collection to Mr and Mrs Obama, care of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
“We decided that if they wanted to borrow two paintings by the Albers, then the White House should own two of the Albers paintings,” Weber told the Washington Post. The Foundation passed on three works: Study for Homage to the Square: Asking (1963) by Josef Albers, Homage to the Square (1966) by Josef Albers; and Black, White, and Gray (1950) a textile work by Anni Albers, all in honour of Barack and Michelle Obama.
These pieces were well received. The Presidential couple adored the paintings, and commissioned a rug inspired by Anni's weaving. In 2020, nearly four years after she and her husband moved out of the White House, she recalled, “I’ve long admired the art of Anni and Josef Albers, and I knew I wanted to include some of their pieces when we redesigned the Old Family Dining Room. I just loved seeing their work on display every day at the White House, and I know so many others did, too.”
If you want to get some better insight into the modernist, 20th century power couple so admired by the Obamas, get a copy of Anni & Josef Albers here.