The New York Times asked the following questions regarding the recent unveiling of President and First Lady Obama’s official portraits in the National Gallery of Arts:
“What did the portraits mean to you, particularly if you are African-American or of African descent? Did their aesthetic remind you of other artwork and what did you think of Mr. Wiley and Ms. Sherald’s approach to bucking tradition? What do you think the artists were trying to convey — and do you think they were successful? Did they capture the Obamas and their legacy accurately?”
Before I give you my answers – and I am interested in hearing yours – here are my own questions to the Beautiful People: What is the objective of a portrait – to tell the truth or to obscure it? Is truth a quality you would want to see in your own official portrait? Who would you select to paint yours?
Here are my answers (I read none of the comments on the NYT article):
- terrible question, Reporter Sopan Deb! Can they only mean something to me if I am African-American or of African descent? Did the first unartfully phrased question make you think that the journalist has an agenda? Is he a reliable source as a “cultural editor”? What if I told you Mr. Deb was arrested at an anti-Trump rally and that the charges were dropped? Would that change the way you read his questions???
- Yes. The portraits remind me of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. The flower dog sculpture by Jeff Koons immediately reminded me of President Obama’s portrait. Mrs. Obama, in my mind, is represented by the structure of the museum itself, the architect of whom is Frank Gehry.
- Bucking tradition is great, especially in art. However, if my portrait were to hang next to Mr. Understanding’s portrait, I would want the portraits to complement each other. I do not think these achieve accomplish that goal of mine. For example, Mr. Understanding and I are each individuals in our own right but co-owners of the same team. If my portrait were hanging next to the First Gentleman, I would like them to pay tribute to our common vision. To me, this is not reflected in the portraiture. This is an aesthetic choice made by the President and the First Lady and they most probably have different ideas on the subject.
- In the portrait of President Obama, I believe Mr. Wiley was trying to convey a relaxed attitude with some gravitas, as concerns the person. The hands seem a tad large. I find it fascinating that they are crossed. Did he usually sit this way? Regarding the garden setting, I read that it was used to convey his Hawaiian heritage so I kept looking for a marijuana leaf and a banana slug (that’s a joke). Why was not a rainbow used, symbolically? Regarding Mrs. Obama, she is reclining slightly away from the viewer, creating some distance. It might be a modern day nod of the head to Rodin’s The Thinker – Mrs. Obama is quite statuesque. There is probably a lot of symbolism in the fashion forward dress that I do not understand. Ms. Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama speaks greater truth to me than the President’s.
- I might like my mother-in-law to paint my portrait. I can think of no other living artist whose portraiture I admire. Perhaps an unphotoshopped photo would do? The truth does matter to me but a dose of artistic license, especially around the jowls, is appreciated too.
Happy Presidents’ Day Weekend! I am off to see Thing 3! The posts will be short and I apologize for the lack of photos – I need a kid to help me upload the visuals. XOXO