Black Like Me No. 2 by Glenn Ligon ’82 on Display at the White House

In early October, the White House press office announced that the President Obama and his family had chosen 45 art works borrowed from several Washington museums to decorate various White House walls, including the text painting Black Like Me No. 2 by Glenn Ligon ’82, which is on loan from the Hirshhorn Musuem.

In an article in the Washington Post about the Obamas’ selection of art works, Blake Gopnik described Ligon as “one of the best one of the best African American artists working today, and also one of the smartest and toughest. His loaner work is a tall white canvas covered from top to bottom with the repeated phrase ‘All traces of the Griffin I had been were wiped from existence,’ a quote from the 1961 book the picture’s named after, Black Like Me, in which the white journalist John Howard Griffin made himself look black and reported on the troubles that befell him. Just as Griffin disappeared into blackness, and into the obliterations of American racism, so Ligon’s stenciled text disappears into an ever thicker mess of black pigment as it descends the canvas, until at the bottom it’s close to illegible.”

The Obamas’ choices include mostly modern contemporary paintings and sculptures by well-known artists such as Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko, and Edward Ruscha in addition to pieces by lesser-known artists such as Edward Corbett, who worked in Washington in the 1960s, and Alma Thomas, a 1960s-1970s African American abstract painter. Works by other African Americans and Native Americans are also on view as well as bronze dancers by Edgar Degas and still life paintings from the 1950s by Italian artist Giorgio Morandi.

David Low

David Low '76 writes about arts and culture for the Wesleyan magazine and Wesleyan Connection. He is associate director of publications in the Office of University Communications. He is also a published fiction writer. E-mail: