Michelle Obama Visits the New Museum

Yesterday morning at the New Museum, the artist Trey Speegle stood surrounded by children, mingling in front of his painting. On the canvas were the words “Drink Up,” in shades of blue, superimposed on a blank, color-by-numbers background, the artist’s signature style. A few feet away, behind a rope, various members of the press, mostly culture journalists and photographers, looked on. The room was waiting in anticipation for something not often seen in the downtown art world: the arrival of Michelle Obama.

The First Lady was dropping by to support “Taking Back the Streets,” a show backed by WAT-AAH!, a bottled water brand aimed at children and teenagers. The exhibition, which highlights street art, is in partnership with “Drink Up,” a national campaign supported by Obama and the Partnership for a Healthier America. Besides Speegle, the artists Shepard Fairey, Swoon and a handful of other street artists contributed original works.

Upon her arrival, the First Lady was greeted with cheers from media, children, and artists alike. Sophia Rose Stewart-Chapman, a 13-year-old New York City school student, read a speech about her personal struggles with negative images in the media. Afterwards, Obama spoke to the children about surrounding oneself with positive messages and the its relation to the importance of staying hydrated. After several children shared what they had learned, Obama responded, “I feel now comforted to turn the world over to you.”

The exhibition will travel around the country for a year, making stops in Washington D.C., Los Angeles and Miami among other cities. Art from the New York staging will be on display at the Lower East Side’s WallPlay Gallery starting this spring.