The Smithsonian’s official Obama Portraits
I never knew the presidents of the USA get a portrait to be displayed for the public in Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, after the end of their terms. It was the Obamas’ turn yesterday, an event widely covered by the press. The couple was very popular with the public during their White House stay. That’s especially because of their charitable characters, social involvement and natural chemistry. I won’t get political about it, because this is news about the art world.
Well, thanks to their on-going popularity, people had a lot to say about these Obama portraits. Each of them hand-picked their respective artist. Barack Obama chose Kehinde Wiley, a Yale University graduate. He is famous for his Old Master painting style, filled with pops of color. The background is a luxurious wall of flowers, each with a significance. Michelle Obama chose Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald, who focuses more on social justice themes, more than perfectly replicating the person. The African-American artist paints black skin in grey tones, which raised some eyebrows.
President Barack Obama
Both choices seem to pave the way for a new approach to these presidential portraits. They focus more on composition and less on realism which makes people have mixed feelings about them. Some think that the president is too serious, while Michele looks nothing like her real life subject. Commentators argue the portrait does not reflect her class while he is being surrounded by poison ivy. They generally think the works do not belong in such a museum, more like a living room.
Then came the jokes and the memes. I mean, here are the other presidential portraits. One is not like the other:
Then the most popular joke took us on another meme journey:
Regardless of the general opinion, both artists are unique in their renditions. These Obama portraits certainly stand out from all the previous ones. And that should help us understand the situation even better. Obama was the first African-American president and that made way for many first-times, especially considering the cultural legacy he carried with him.
Such is that the choice of these two African-American artists should come as no surprise. Artistically, these portraits are a milestone in black portraiture and black culture.
What do you think?