The White House has made a rare and historic art acquisition by adding Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture (1962) to the Rose Garden. The work becomes the first by an Asian American artist to enter the national collection.
First Lady Melania Trump selected Noguchi’s work and the White House Historical Society purchased it for $125,000 at a Sotheby’s auction in March.
The abstract bronze piece has been installed on the Rose Garden’s white concrete floor, with one larger beam diving into the ground and jutting out at an angle, while a smaller piece seemingly rises up again. The First Lady posted pictures of the ribbon-cutting ceremony to her official Twitter account with a caption reading: “The art piece is humble in scale, complements the authority of the Oval Office, & represents the important contributions of Asian American artists.”
Thousands of retweets and replies came flooding in, with many critical of the photo op: “Show us Biden’s inauguration stage as it’s being built!!” one user wrote, with another adding “now time for a moving van to leave the White House.” A user named Paul Rosenberger wrote, “Just like everything else in the White House right now… IT’S BROKEN.”
Unlike his predecessors, Donald Trump has not made art and culture a priority in his administration or in the White House itself. While in office, Michelle Obama acquired an Alma Thomas painting, the first work by a Black female artist to enter the collection. Before her, Hillary Clinton selected a work by Georgia O’Keeffe to hang in the White House Green Room. Donald Trump requested a painting by Vincent Van Gogh to join the White House, but was rejected by the Guggenheim’s former chief curator Nancy Spector, who suggested he accept Maurizio Cattelan’s gold toilet instead.
Brett Littman, director of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, told the that while bipartisan rancor made the timing unfortunate—Trump has still not acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden’s victory—”the key for us is that this will be on display in perpetuity at the White House. Administrations com and go, but artwork remains.”