The Obamas Choose Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald to Paint Their Official Portraits for the Smithsonian
They will be the first black artists to officially paint a presidential couple.
Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have been commissioned to paint former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s official portraits for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
Wiley and Sherald are the first black artists commissioned to paint a presidential couple, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“Both [painters] have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, in a statement.
Wiley, 40, is known for his Baroque-style portraits that depict young black men as European royalty. His lushly colored paintings, heavily influenced by art history, often juxtapose symbols of hip hop, such as hoodies and baseball caps, with aristocratic poses and backdrops. In Obama, Wiley will finally have a subject who has actually held the power with which he typically imbues his subjects.
Sherald, 44, specializes in portraits of black women. Although she, too, appreciates bright colors, her cheerful backgrounds and subject’s fashionable clothing contrast with the surreal figures, their skin painted in shades of gray.
The artist is currently featured in the Studio Museum in Harlem’s “Fictions,” a group show featuring 19 emerging artists of African descent. Sherald’s work can also be seen at the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.
In addition, Sherald won the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition in 2016 for her painting Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance). The prize came with a $25,000 award, as well as a commission from the museum.
Wiley had a 2015 solo show at the Brooklyn Museum, and received the US State Department Medal of Arts in 2015. According to the artnet Price Database, his record at auction is $143,000, achieved at Sotheby’s New York in 2014.
The Smithsonian is home to the nation’s only complete collection of presidential portraits outside of the White House. The recently renovated “America’s Presidents” exhibition reopened this month.
Currently, Obama is represented by two large-format Woodburytypes photographs taken by Chuck Close in 2012—one serious, one smiling.
The National Portrait Gallery made a significant expansion to its presidential collection with the announcement earlier this week that it had acquired the earliest known photograph of a US President.
The daguerreotype, from 1843, features John Quincy Adams, the nation’s sixth President. It will go on view next year in “America’s Presidents.”
The museum purchased the historic photo at Sotheby’s New York on October 5, with a winning bid of $360,500. As for the Obamas’ portraits, the Smithsonian will pay for the works through private donations.
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