Art reference

Obama’s portraits could be better

The Obamas returned to the White House on Wednesday — their first visit together since moving in 2017 — for the unveiling of their “official portraits.”

These are not, for reference, the same portraits that were commissioned by the National Gallery in 2018, those that toured five cities across the country in what they, aptly, called “The Obama Portrait Tour”. These images gave Barack a verdant backdrop and Michelle a distinctly voluminous dress. These are new paints that are much more bland:

The new pieces were commissioned by the White House Historical Association to join the White House collection, alongside paintings from other former first families, like the pair of George and Laura Bush that the Obamas unveiled in 2012. It is It’s customary for the White House to honor its former occupants like that, though Trump skipped the procedure during his presidency and COVID delayed this one by about two-and-a-half years.

Overall, the collection tends to adopt a specific look: gilded frames, classic contrapposto and conventionally realistic figuration – although post-Reagan renderings have taken some facial liberties – any attempt at abstraction being relegated to blurred background. Deviations from the typical formula tend to speak directly to the president’s personality, or at least the artist’s idea of ​​him. Take Lincoln, who makes him pose like The Thinker, or Nixon’s, which makes it meaner, like it’s about to give a teenager a good foundation. Bush Jr.’s portrayal appears to share an illustration style with the children’s show, Arthur, a choice that requires little elaboration, and Trump has none, which has its own meaning.

The portraits of the Obamas are vaguely revealing in this regard. Barack’s looks like a stock photo you’d find in a pre-made frame. It is hyperrealistic to the point that it could presumably have been traced from an actual photograph. Obama himself is smiling in a black suit and white tie straight out of the prom, against a background so vacant it looks computer-rendered. The atmosphere is as follows: stage and rehearsal of the primary school photo day.

Official White House portraits

Michelle is more textured, but in the wrong way. Her light blue dress clashes with the red sofa she is sitting on, which in turn clashes with the peach-colored wall paint. What could that mean? Metaphor of a torn country? Or a symbol of how our differences can bring us together? Hard to say. She looks toned as usual, but something is wrong with her face. The vibe is this: fan art scrounged from Tumblr.

Official White House portraits

He suits a family that has all but eschewed the politics of serving as celebrity figureheads, guiding their hordes of stans to summer playlists rather than, say, court reform. But don’t bother with another cross-country tour; no one needs to see them up close.