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January 5, 2012

Obama: Warrior Pride?

While the Repubs battle it out in New Hampshire, in part, over who sound more badass on defense, it’s one area Obama ‘12 has its bases covered (pardon the pun). I was wondering if Pete Souza and White House Communications had this point in mind choosing out this photo from the Treaty Room in their year-end Flickr collection.

Sure, it’s abstract art, so anything one could say about a painting like this — mindful of attacks from the right, administration sacrifices a donkey; an homage to the Confederacy’s Stars and Bars – is speculation.  Still, with all the notches in Obama’s belt this year, to me, it smacks of warrior pride.

As always, I’m interested in your take.

(photo: Pete Souza/White House caption: March 16, 2011: “The President meets with national security aides John Brennan, foreground, and Denis McDonough after talking on the phone with Prime Minister Naoto Kan of Japan a few days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The call was made near midnight from the Treaty Room office in the White House Residence. Most nights after dinner and time with his family, the President retreats to this office where he catches up on paperwork and reads his briefing material for the next day.”

  • Thomas Gokey


  • Enoch Root

    I’m curious about that painting, but can’t find any documentation on it. The Obamas apparently remodeled the Treaty Room sometime before 7/11; it looked very different during the Bush years, and it’s probable that Obama put the painting there.

    • Karen H.

      I’m pretty sure it’s Susan Rothenberg (mixed figural/abstract), but I don’t know
      the name or year (maybe early). It bugs me, though her other paintings
      don’t bother me as much.

      Maybe it’s the whole room: icky mauve with gold and fussy grandfather clock near abstract art.

  • Anonymous

    The painting echoes strongly of paleolithic cave drawings in style and subject. As a conversation starter for visitors to the White House one might find oneself discussing human ancestors without a religion we’d recognize today, perhaps confronting deeper questions of race. To me, this art screams Science.

    The grandfather clock is a clear example of mechanical time. Its pendulum takes us back to Galileo and the beginnings of an age of science and reason in Europe.

  • Any Hascall

    Susan Rothenberg is one of the countries great painters.  Kudos to Barak if indeed he bought this for “our house.”

  • Caraf

    The painting is Susan Rothenberg’s “Butterfly” (1995), borrowed from the National Gallery of Art collection in DC. Info here:

    I have two thoughts. My first thought, not knowing anything about the painting, was “War Horse.”

    Second, does it change one’s interpretation of what goes on in the manly treaty room to know the image is painted by a woman?

    • Karen H.

      Interesting. From my perspective it didn’t, but then I don’t feel like a painting by a man would have affected my interpretation either.  I like a lot of Rothenberg’s work, but this one puts me off a bit though that could be about the room decor in general. Not harmonious.

      But the war horse imagery is really interesting to have in a treaty room when so many treaties historically came about because of conflict.

  • lq

    That dynamic horse is crashing through the barriers to overtake time.  I love the painting, and would have had just the thought I express as I placed that old clock in its path.

  • Philip Perdue

    Yes, the room looks a bit musty, and the painting doesn’t help. The couch looks like a Goodwill score, while, for whatever reason, the wallpaper appears to be peeling back straight off the top of BO’s head. The imagery is D.C. postmodern: grandfather clock definitely has history, though we don’t know what kind, while that painting has kind of a hipster who-gives-a-f**k edge to it.
    BO looks tired. 

  • AC Missias

    I don’t think the wallpaper is peeling (looks more like the edge of some sort of fusebox or other panel that opens), but I agree that the look is odd — jumbled style, bad color mix, etc.  I like modern art, and even primitivist styles, but this painting does nothing for me at all — it just strikes me as a bit crude and strange (2-legged horse? crossed out or on a flag? confusing).  Probably the artist is somebody that the Obamas thought deserved more exposure (American, contemporary, black, something) — they seem to have made a lot of choices along those lines in a deliberate way, which I generally applaud.  The effect on the photo is strange, though, as the painting totally overwhelms the human subjects here…

  • Ferris J. Anderson Jr

    That’s not peeling wallpaper, that’s a door. 

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