The First Ladies Garden has been part of the White House grounds since the early 1960's. Jacqueline Kennedy created the garden and tens of thousands of White House guests and visitors have enjoyed and appreciated it since that day. Early in her residency at the White House, Hillary Rodham Clinton conceived of using the First Ladies Garden as a setting for changing exhibitions of 20th century American sculpture. Mrs. Clinton thought this seemed very compatible with the nature of the garden and with the spirit of Mrs. Kennedy, who championed art and the arts throughout her life.
In 1994 the first exhibition of 20th century sculpture was installed in the garden under the auspices of the Association of Art Museum Directors. George Neubert, Director of the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, selected 12 sculptures from museums in the Midwest to place in the garden. These 12 illustrated the major developments in American sculpture from the early 20th century to the present.
This second exhibition in the First Ladies Garden also has 12 sculptures. They were selected from museums in the Southeast and focus on American sculpture from 1965 to the present. All the artists, save one, are alive and working today, and all have learned from and been inspired by the artists who have preceded them in this century. Their work is like America itself--full of consistency and change and fresh expression grounded in the rich soil of tradition.
The sculptors whose work is now in the First Ladies Garden bring fresh ideas and insights to the world of which they are a part. They are seeking both personal and universal realities as they explore solutions to contemporary problems in new and innovative ways. As they work with new materials, new hues, and unusual forms, they cause us to question our own sensibilities and to contemplate things we have never seen or felt or thought about before.
Metal and paint have replaced stone and clay as primary working materials. For the most part, construction is the method used to realize an idea rather than modeling or carving. Good figures, familiar portraits, and heroic events as subject matter have given way to new, compelling and powerful forms which energize our imaginations and renew our souls.
What we discover in this exhibition is that this historic and beautiful First Ladies Garden is alive with the spirit of America. The works of art reflect the diversity, vitality and energy of our past, present and future. The exhibition includes work by a self-taught artist who uses discarded and found materials in the creation of his art; a MacArthur Fellow; one of this century's most famous sculptors; and other Americans both well known and yet-to-be-known. Each work is the individual artist's contribution to the American vision of human life and human understanding. Each work invites and encourages us to be affected by that vision. As we accept the invitation to look at the art and respond to it, we see as many different things as we are different people; but one thing we will see the same: art in America is alive and well, rejoicing in today, and eager for the future.
Townsend Wolfe, Director and Chief Curator
The Arkansas Arts Center
Little Rock, Arkansas