Barack Obama made history when he was elected to the presidency in 2008, and now his and Michelle Obama’s groundbreaking presidential and first lady portraits have come to San Francisco, opening at the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park June 18, where they will be in display through Aug. 14.
The Obama Portraits Tour is part of a unique seven-city tour that began in Chicago, Illinois, in June 2021. The stops in San Francisco and Boston, the last two on the journey, were added later. The tour, organized by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the repository for all presidential portraits, has been extremely popular, which prompted the Smithsonian to extend it through October.
Both portraits are unlike any other presidential or first lady portraits, and both were painted by Black artists.
Tom Campbell, director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, said the portraits “speak to the sense of hope and possibility that the Obamas inspire,” and praised the artists for expanding and critiquing artistic conventions that have traditionally defined representations of power.
“We are thrilled that Bay Area audiences will have the opportunity to experience these powerful, iconic paintings in person at the de Young museum,” he said.
“Barack Obama” by Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 2018 (Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery) President Barack Obama
Obama’s portrait, which depicts him seated on the edge of a chair, surrounded by flowers and foliage, was created by Kehinde Wiley. The native of Los Angeles and graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute is known for his vibrant, large-scale paintings that use European portraiture tradition to depict contemporary African Americans.
Michelle Obama’s portrait, painted by Amy Sherald, is a counterpoint to her husband’s. It depicts her in a flowing gown, an alert but serene look on her face, against a solid sky blue background. Sherald is the first woman and first African American to win the triennial Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition held by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Sherald has also received a 2019 Smithsonian Ingenuity Award.
Obama’s 2008 election shares the same sense of historic significance with the portraits, painted 10 years later, said de Young curator Timothy Burgard, both in the choice of portraitists and the portraits themselves.
Black artists had never been chosen, possibly never even considered, to paint such important portraits. Wiley and Sherald re-envisioned the centuries-long tradition of representing political leaders, and for the first time drew the Black community into the conversation.
“Growing up as a kid in South Central Los Angeles going to the museum in L.A.,” Wiley has said, “there weren’t too many people who happened to look like me on those walls. So, as the years go on and as I try to create my own type of work, it has to do with correcting some of that. Trying to find places where people who look like me do feel accepted or do have the ability to express their state of grace on the grand narrative scale of museum space.”
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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment