Friday, February 16, 2018

Obama portrait artists merged the everyday and the extraordinary

By Robin Pogrebin Feb. 12, 2018
From left, Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery; Kehinde Wiley; President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama; Amy Sherald; David Skorton, secretary of the Smithsonian. Mr. Obama said Mr. Wiley tried posing him “with partridges and scepters and thrones,” even “mounting me on horses.” “I had to explain that I’ve got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon,” Mr. Obama added. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — For 50 years, the official paintings of the nation’s former leaders at the National Portrait Gallery have been composed of white presidents painted by white artists. But when the curtains fell from two official portraits Monday morning, they revealed the first black president and first lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, painted, for the first time in the gallery’s history, by black artists, Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley. By choosing two black artists, Ms. Sherald said, the Obamas sent a strong message that people of color and paintings by people of color also belong on museum walls. “Something big happened, something that wasn’t supposed to happen happened: we had our first black president and our first black first lady,” Ms. Sherald said. “Their choices of Kehinde and I represent that.” [More]
The gray skin in Michelle Obama’s portrait feels at first like a loss, and then like a real gain.
Obama is seated, the chair resting, one assumes, on a soft, unseen bed of soil. But the bottoms of his shiny black shoes simply float.