Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
January 5, 1996
MRS. CLINTON: Please be seated and welcome to the White House. I wish the weather were just a little warmer so we could be out in the garden, but we are so pleased to have you here in the East Room. And I am very sorry that because of the prior government shutdown in November, we were forced to postpone the original opening, and I deeply regret any inconvenience that this necessary but regrettable postponement caused any of you. We are, as you know, in the middle of another partial government shutdown, but thankfully we were able to hold this ceremony because the White House Appropriations Bill was one of those that was passed and the President signed.
But I am happy to report that the exhibit did open in October in glorious weather, and in time for the Arts and Humanities Celebration here at the White House. A thousand or more people saw the exhibit that first day, and thousands and thousands more have been enjoying it during October, November and into December. This is the third in a series of exhibitions of 20th century American sculpture that have been installed at the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden here at the White House. As some of you know this exhibit was inspired in part by Jackie Kennedy Onassis. My much too brief friendship with her left an indelible impression on me, and the garden is a lasting, living tribute to the extraordinary artistic and cultural contributions she made to the White House. It became possible because others shared my hope that the White House could be an exhibition place for modern American art as well as the extraordinary White House collection of art that you see around you here in this room with the Gilbert Stewart and in other rooms throughout the house.
I must say that every time I come into the East Room, and particularly on an occasion like this, I am always grateful to another of my predecessors, Dolly Madison. Because it was Dolly Madison during the War of 1812, when James Madsion, who was the last of our presidents actually to be Commander in Chief in the field, was out with the troops in 1814, who was here preparing a dinner for her husband and all of the officers who had returned when word came that the British were advancing, had broken through, were on their way to the house. So she, I think in one of the great heroic moments in American history, began to gather up many of the treasures here in the house and took down the Gilbert Stewart portrait of George Washington, rolled it up and escaped right before the British.
I have said this in both Canada, where the commanding general of the British forces was based, and recently in the United Kingdom, that we don't forget -- although we are great friends. And some of you may notice on the front part of the White House we've actually left some of the stone exposed where the burn marks show. And the thing that I do find hard to forgive is that, at least I have been told, the British came into the house, ate the dinner Dolly Madison had prepared and then burned it.
Well, we are still here, and we have survived much over our history. And that is also part of what I had hoped with these exhibits, because they represent the diverse and rich talents of this extraordinary country of ours. I am thrilled that some of the artists whose works are exhibited could be with us today. And i think one only needs to look, and I hope all of you get a chance to look, at the intriguing sculptures in this particular exhibit. They embody the transformations of both 20th century and society. Among them is an abstract sculpture by Georgia O'Keefe, who many of us casual art lovers knew only as a painter. In a house full of wonderful, 200-year-old antiques, it is also a blessing to live amongst objects that represent the era in which we live.
Well, the president and I believe strongly that art should be accessible to everyone, because it has the power to evoke in each of us a deeper understanding of our lives and of the world around us. This is a particularly difficult and challenging time in Washington and in our country, but art can make our spirits soar and remind us of life's possibilities and of our human powers to imagine and to create. And is gives me great satisfaction that amongst the more than one and a half million American and foreign visitors who walk through this house, the only residence of a head of state open to tourists, that they will be able to share in this artistic exhibition. They walk down through the colonnade, and on a day like this even when it's cold outside where the sun is shining, they can look out and as their standing in line, begin to think about what it means, what their own lives mean. And for me that is a great gift that you have made possible.
This exhibition celebrates the sculptors themselves. Ann Tucker once said, "All art requires is courage." You could amend that and say, "All life requires is courage." But sometimes it is art that displays and embodies that courage for us. So I would like, on behalf of the President and myself, to thank the artists who are featured in this exhibit.
I also want to thank and recognize the people who have made this exhibit and our prior ones possible. It took enormous generosity, dedication, wisdom, planning and just plain hard work to make this happen. Special thanks to Peter Marzio, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and Alison Delema Green, the curator of the Museum of Fine arts in Houston. I also want to say a special word of gratitude to the Iris and B. Gerald Canter Foundation and to my friend Iris Canter who is here. I don't know of any other two Americans who have done more to support and promote the arts and particularly sculpture. The White House is such a richer, more beautiful place because of their generosity. I want also to thank J. Carter Brown, who sheparded this idea that was inchoate, to say the best about it, to fruition. I also want to thank the lending institutions that are acknowledged in the program, the White House Preservation Committee and the White House Historical Association, which are such great partners in promoting and maintaining this house. A special word of thanks to the curator of the White House, Rex Scouton, and his very able and dedicated assistants, the Association of Art Museum Director and its president, Sylvia Williams. All of them deserve certainly, my thanks, but far beyond my thanks, you deserve the thanks of every American whether they see the exhibit or not -- because of what you are doing to keep inspiring us, keep giving us a sense of human possibility.
You know, in this time of great global change and as we approach not only a new century, but a new millennium, with the pace of technological change occurring at a rate far beyond the capacity for human beings to comprehend, let alone understand or adjust to -- art becomes more and more important. It is the very first way one goes back to the cave drawing and the tiny figures of women carved from bone, that people knew they were something in addition to just foragers for food and survivors against the elements. We are a long way in time from those days, but we have the same needs to understand ourselves and to appreciate what stays human despite the changes around us.
And so in this time of change and very difficult adjustments for people, we need art more than ever. So thank you for making that possible for all of us. And now I look forward to greeting you individually in the Blue Room and on to the reception in the State Dining Room. Thank you all very much.