What happens when you combine millennial artists with historic commissions? You get magic! Former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, attracted hundreds of friends and colleagues and the media Monday, including the likes of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Shonda Rhimes and Joe Biden, for the unveiling of portraits commissioned by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery for its permanent collection.
The former President quipped that artist Kehinde Wiley cheerfully ignored almost all of his suggestions for his portrait. Wiley’s portrait of the president shows a steely-eyed Obama leaning forward in a chair that seems to float on a background of lush green foliage. The painting will hang in the “America’s Presidents” exhibit, one of the 50-year-old museum’s most popular attractions. “How about that? Pretty sharp,” said the former president after he and Wiley unveiled the life-size portrait.
Coming to Michelle's portrait, it garnered a lot of 'wows' and 'oohs' from the audience as well. Michelle Obama selected Baltimore artist Sherald for her portrait. About it, she said, “I am humbled, I am honoured, I am proud. Young people, particularly girls and girls of colour, in future years they will come to this place and see someone who looks like them hanging on the walls of this incredible institution." The former president too commented on her portrait starting out by praising Sherald for capturing, “the grace and beauty and charm and hotness of the woman that I love.”
Toward the end, Obama said he found the process of sitting for the portrait to be a frustrating experience. “I don’t like posing. I get impatient and start looking at my watch,” he said, “but working with Kehinde was a great joy," he said. “Being the first African-American painter to paint the first African-American president, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Kehinde Wiley.