TV network news operations covering Trumpocalypse non-stop took a break Monday morning to report on the Smithsonian’s unveiling of its portraits of former POTUS and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama. The portraits will hang in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
First unveiled, Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama.
While CNN’s Chris Cillizza described it on Twitter as a “beautiful portrait” that “looks very little like Michelle Obama,” and New York Times scolded, saying it “overemphasizes an element of couturial spectacle,” former POTUS felt otherwise, telling the artist:
“Amy, I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty, and intelligence and charm – and hotness – of the woman that I love.”
Helping Kehinde Wiley unveil his own presidential portrait, Obama remarked, “How about that? That’s pretty sharp!”
Obama feted Wiley for his body of portraits that “challenge our conventional view of power and privilege” and recognize “the beauty and the grace and dignity of people who are so often invisible in our lives and put them on a grand scale” describing Wiley’s frequent subjects as people “who helped to build this country – who helped to build this capital – who, to this day, are making sure this place is clean at night, and serving food, and taking out the garbage, and all the other stuff that makes this country work, and so often out of sight and out of mind.
“Kehinde lifted them up and gave them a platform, and said they belonged at the center of American life and that was something that moved me deeply,” Obama said of his choice of portrait artist.
Politics, Obama said, is not simply celebrating the high and the mighty” and the notion the country unfolds from the top down, but “that it comes from the bottom up.”
But, Obama joked, Wiley tends to elevates his subjects with elaborate setting, and his initial impulse had been “to elevate me and put me in these settings with partridges and sceptres, and thrones and chifforobes and mounting me on horses.”
“I had to explain that I’ve got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon. We’ve got to bring it down just a touch,” Obama joked, adding, “And that is what he did.”
Wiley and Sherald are the first African American artists to create Smithsonian-commissioned portraits of a former president and first lady.