Page last updated at 04:20 GMT, Thursday, 8 October 2009 05:20 UK

Obamas reveal modern art tastes

Ed Ruscha's I Think I'll...
Ed Ruscha's I Think I'll... was among the selected works

US President Barack Obama and his wife have decorated their private rooms and the Oval Office with a range of modern and abstract art, the White House says.

They began selecting pieces before January's inauguration, but the list of borrowed works has just been released.

New pieces by contemporary African-American and Native American artists are on display, as well as established artists such as Mark Rothko.

The works add to the extensive permanent White House art collection.

The First Couple worked with California decorator Michael Smith and White House curator William Allman to select the works.

The scope of the modern work exceeds that hung by previous White House occupants, Mr Allman said.

"The first lady had clear ideas about what they were aiming for.

The BBC's Mark Mardell
Catlin apparently admired Native American culture and felt he was recording a great culture on the edge of destruction, so perhaps they are making a political point.
Mark Mardell
BBC North America editor

"They knew their tastes, and Michael Smith knew a lot about their tastes," he said.

The art is only being hung in private rooms and offices as any changes to the historic public spaces - such as the Blue Room or the State Dining Room - must be approved by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House.

The items include patent models for a gear cutter and a steamboat paddlewheel, placed in the Oval Office.

The couple chose Edward Ruscha's I Think I'll ..., which superimposes phrases such as "I think I'll ..." and "maybe ... no" on top of a red sunset.

As well as works by famous artists such as Jasper Johns, lesser-known artists such as Alma Thomas, an African-American abstract painter of the 1960s and 1970s, have been chosen.

A "text painting" by Glenn Ligon reproduces words from 1961 book Black Like Me, a non-fiction account by a white man who disguised himself as a black man and travelled through the South.

A section of Richard Diebenkorn's Berkeley No.55

One New York art dealer described the Obamas' choices as
"highly sophisticated".

The curator of modern and contemporary art at the National Gallery, where many of the items came from, said it was "great art to live with".

Curator Harry Cooper said: "A lot of it is challenging. There are different styles: figurative art, abstract art. A lot of it is avant-garde: it was avant-garde, and a lot of it still is avant-garde."

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