Monday morning, the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery unveiled their official portraits of former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. And while both portraits are the work of avant garde contemporary artists, in this case they might be just a touch too avant garde.
Barack Obama's portrait was done by pop artist Kehinde Wiley, who is well known for his hyper-realistic portraits of African American men and women, often done in the style of the Old Masters or with backgrounds familiar to fans of classical, "old world" European art.
Wiley recreated Obama's likeness in his trademark hyper-realistic way, with Obama seated in a high-backed carved wood chair, wearing more casual attire.
[Insert Garden of Eden metaphor here.] pic.twitter.com/JrF0tXaxtx— Jim Geraghty (@jimgeraghty) February 12, 2018
He set Obama, puzzlingly, against a background of thick foliage, which he said represented Obama's connection to the tropical wilds of Kenya, Hawaii and . . . Chicago.
Close up of Pres Obama's portrait. Artist says the foliage background represents his ties to Chicago, Hawaii and Kenya. pic.twitter.com/JtQklRGLTK— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) February 12, 2018
Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro was quick to point out that the only lush foliage in Chicago surrounds Wrigley Field.
Obama's portrait is especially weird because as a purported White Sox fan, it's unclear how he ended up in the Wrigley ivy. pic.twitter.com/ScEMvYHKSg— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) February 12, 2018
At least Barack Obama's painting bears a striking resemblance to the man himself. Michelle Obama's official portrait, created by "stylized realist" and designated portrait artist Amy Sherald, who deals primarily in black and white with splashes of color, is more "stylized" than it probably should be.
Michelle Obama.— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) February 12, 2018
by Amy Sherald. pic.twitter.com/obbBc6LFVn
Twitter was . . . not kind.
I can think of no more fitting tribute to Michelle Obama than a portrait of somebody else. https://t.co/ke98kuaZIO— tf rollback /recursive Coder (@CoderInCrisis) February 12, 2018
Michelle Obama's portrait was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery...— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) February 12, 2018
Aaaaand it looks nothing like her. pic.twitter.com/EQitllF47w
This is a beautiful portrait. It looks very little like Michelle Obama pic.twitter.com/1CsRrWIJtN— Chris Cillizza (@CillizzaCNN) February 12, 2018
In fairness to both artists, they are known for breaking the mold of traditional portraiture, and in the spirit of contemporary art, trying to force viewers to take an "alternate look" at the subjects of their paintings. The portrait of Michelle Obama might stretch that theory just beyond utility, however.
Okay, we're being nice. It looks like a portrait of someone hired to play Michelle Obama in a dramatic rendition about her life, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks (both of whom were, of course, at the unveiling).
Back when the Obamas announced their chosen portrait artists, Vanity Fair and others mocked George W. Bush for being among those portrait painters denied the opportunity to immortalize the Obamas in oil paints. In this case, at least Michelle might have come out ahead.