President Obama had a hard time last Friday after his conceptual piece Here I Am met scathing reviews from peers. He was available to publicly comment the following day.“It didn’t well,” Mr. Obama told readme in the confines of his studio. “I mean, quite a few people said they liked my concept. But that was about it.”
Mr. Obama’s piece was submitted for the White House’s Concept Art studio which meets every Monday and Wednesday, and on Friday for critique sessions. These studio sessions are required of all members of Congress as well as for the President. For years they have been a sanctuary for Democrats and Republicans to explore their personal voices both as politicians and emerging artists. But the recent fuss over Mr. Obama’s work seems a step backward.
So why is the President’s piece so controversial? Here I Am is an installation piece featuring a flight of stairs that leads up to the second story window of the oval office. It is “interactive” – viewers are promised a handshake and mint candy from the President once they reach the top. Which would seem fine, except that the stairs are encrusted in manure and star spangled glitter.
Most viewers report not being able to “get it”, let alone get into the crowded opening. But Mr. Obama’s peers and classmates had different issues altogether. One of his loudest critics, Republican House Speaker John Boehner, called the project “pastiche”. “Here I Am obviously tries to reference M.C. Escher’s Relativity in a more sophisticated and modernized context. But it just comes across as another campy version of the Relativity. Obama hasn’t given his piece a relevant enough context for there to be any emotional resonance between the viewer and his piece.”
“See, I don’t get that comment,” Mr. Obama told readme in his studio. “Where’s he getting Relativity from? Here I Am resembles nonsensical staircases in the same way it resembles any other major works or ideas in the last 200 years with stairs. If anything, my work references Romney’s 2006 Here You Are which, by the way, Boehner loved.”
Romney’s infamous Here You Are was a conceptual piece in which viewers were invited to climb into Romney’s campaign bus. The stairs in Romney’s version, however, were covered in tacks. Once at the top, viewers would be smacked with a $500 fine before being booted back down the stairs. Once at the bottom audience members were promptly arrested for trespassing.
“I thought people would appreciate if I marginally improved a horrible experience.” Mr. Obama said, “I mean, Boehner and his crew are really into that whole Sisyphean climb motif. But I wanted something a little more productive, so fuck me, right?”