Biden Lifts Trump-Era Restrictions on Public Art

February 2nd, 2022

The administration of President Joe Biden on Monday announced that it was rescinding an executive order issued by former President Donald Trump restricting the type of public art that could be commissioned for federal buildings. The order, implemented in July 2020 as the Black Lives Matter surged in the wake of the George Floyd killing, strongly urged that such works comprise “public-facing monuments to former presidents of the United States and to individuals and events relating to the discovery of America, the founding of the United States, and the abolition of slavery.” The rule further stipulated that any commission of this nature yield a “lifelike or realistic representation of that person, not an abstract or modernist representation.”

Noting that the order excluded a wide swath of artists from the Art in Architecture program, which is responsible for commissioning works for federal buildings, the Biden administration rolled it back with the intent of opening the door to artists from underrepresented communities and demographics.

“Art looks different in different parts of the country and in different communities, and so now this allows us when we go into a federal building to potentially see art that reflects that local community and/or the individuals within the community and across the country,” said Krystal Brumfield, associate administrator for Office of Government-wide Policy within the General Services Administration.

Among the extant public works that could not have been commissioned according to the Trump-era restrictions are Alexander Calder’s 1974 Flamingo, outside the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building in downtown Chicago; Ellsworth Kelly’s 1998 Boston Panels, at Boston’s John Joseph Moakley US Courthouse; and Robert Mangold’s 2011 Three Columns, at the U.S. Courthouse in Buffalo, NY.

The Biden administration last year repealed Trump’s lame-duck executive order of December 2020 mandating “beautiful” federal architecture.