The Obamas stepped into the spotlight again this morning for the unveiling of their official Smithsonian portraits, a rite of passage for nearly all first couples.
In October, President Obama selected out artist Kehinde Wiley, a New York artist known for his bold, regal depictions of African-American luminaries, to paint him for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
“How about that?” Obama said about the portrait after its unveiling. “That’s pretty sharp.”
Wiley is the first black artist tasked with portraying a president for the gallery. In 2012, he told BBC News that Obama being president “means that the image of power is completely new for an entire generation of not only black American kids, but every population group in this nation.”
For her portrait, Michelle Obama selected Amy Sherald, a black painter from Baltimore with a bright style of portraiture. At the unveiling, the former First Lady admitted, “I am a little overwhelmed, to say the least.”
The Obamas reportedly looked at two dozen portfolios before selecting their artists. Experts say the first couple’s choices signal a new era of presidential portraits: “Portraiture helps us understand history, so 20 years from now, we’re going to be looking at Kehinde Wiley and have a real window into the very moment we’re living in,” Smithsonian art historian Kate Lemay told Time.
President Obamas’s portrait will hang in the Hall of Presidents beside those of his predecessors. Michelle’s will be on display in a separate gallery in the Smithsonian. Both will be available for public viewing by tomorrow, February 13.