Last Stop: Obama Portraits Now at the MFA
You loved them or not, these portraits.
But maybe you haven’t really seen them. That could change. Beginning September 3, the Barack and Michelle Obama portraits will be on view to the public at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The paintings are on tour from the National Portrait Gallery, which maintains the only collection of Presidential portraits regularly accessible to the public. The MFA is the tour’s seventh and final stop.
The Obamas’ interest in contemporary art caused them to choose artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald to create their portraits. Click here for a short video that explains their choices and shows the contrast between the Obamas’ and the classic (opinion: dry) portraits of past presidents, which according to curator Tania Caragol tend “to blend in with one another.” She’s right, for reasons of both style and substance. (In addition to the Obamas’, another exception is Elaine de Kooning’s portrait of John F. Kennedy, a glimpse of which you can catch on the video.)
After viewing so many digital images of these portraits, it was a joy to see them in person in their original glory. In Barack Obama’s portrait, it’s the gaze and the finely portrayed hands that hold attention. The flowers in the greenery symbolize his geographic and hence political journey. Michelle Obama’s portrait is beautiful to behold though it has always been my opinion that it fails to capture her likeness. In an adjacent gallery, dozens of children’s portraits of “leaders” blanket the wall. Though not specifically identified, my guess is that this (below) is a young artist’s rendering of Prime Minister Sanna Marin.
The Obama portraits will be on view at the MFA until October 30. Click here for further information including a list of dates when admission to the exhibition will be free.
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Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.