Barack Obama and David Cameron Swap Art


When President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron met at the White House yesterday, they spoke about growth, stability, fiscal responsibility, the conflicts in Central Asia, and the special relationship between the two nations. The most interesting news, in our opinion at least, was the gifts they exchanged. Foremost amongst the gift swap was a painting by British street artist Ben Eine and a print by American pop artist Ed Ruscha.

Ben Eine, 21st Century City, n.d. Spray paint and black gloss on canvas, 39 1/2 x 27 1/2 inches. Courtesy Eine Signs, London

The British government’s request for an artwork took Eine — who is known around London for his typographic graffiti — by surprise. “The work that I do appeals to a certain kind of demographic and Samantha Cameron does not fit into this,” he told Sky News Online. “So it was amazing when I got a call from No 10 to ask if I’d mind giving one of my pictures to President Obama… I mean, the President of the United States, and a call from the office of our Prime Minister — it was unbelievable.”

Ed Ruscha, I Think I'll..., 1983, oil on canvas, 55 3/4 x 63 3/4 inches. Courtesy the artist and National Gallery of Art

Obama’s gift — Ed Ruscha’s lithograph Column with Speed Lines — was more in keeping with the President’s taste. Ruscha donated work to benefit the Obama campaign in 2008, and his 1983 painting I think I’ll …, which is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, currently hangs at the White House. According to the Guardian, the Ruscha print “resembles a single column government building with horizons in red, white and blue, the colors of the US and UK flags.”

The art swap is reported to be a definite improvement over the gifts exchanged by Obama and Cameron’s predecessor, Gordon Brown who presented Obama with an “ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of the Victorian anti-slavery ship HMS Gannet.” Not to be outdone, Obama gave the former Prime Minister “25 DVDs which turned out to be unsuitable for UK players.”