A new portrait of President Obama was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery last week. It was met with mixed reviews.
Critics compared the unconventional painting by Kehinde Wiley to portraits from the White House collection, implying that the new work – and, by extension, Obama himself – was less dignified or presidential than those that came before.
But it’s a flawed comparison. This is not his White House portrait. (Also? Judge presidents by their actions, not by artwork created of them.)
There are two collections of portraits that include all (except the most recent) former U.S. Presidents: the 43 paintings in the White House and the more varied collection in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery (NPG), which also includes sculptures and photographs.
The portraits in the White House are often more formal and official-looking than their NPG counterparts, especially in recent decades, when artwork has been veering away from tradition, widening the gap between the two collections.
Wiley’s painting has been installed in the National Portrait Gallery, where I’m sure it stands out as unique, but not out of place.
PS Obama’s portrait has been re-created on a cookie.
— Tastemade (@tastemade) February 17, 2018
Photos via the White House and National Portrait Gallery.