New Yorker Gushes Over Portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama

Obama portraits (Saul Loeb / Getty)
Saul Loeb / Getty

The liberal New Yorker is praising the portraits of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama that were unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, on Monday — even though much of the rest of the country is mocking them.

The former president was painted by controversial artist Kehinde Wiley, who portrayed the president seated, with no necktie, on a wooden chair amidst green leaves and flowers. Mrs. Obama was painted by Amy Sherald, who chose to surround her subject with a plain blue background.

Critics said the former president looked like he was crouching in an outhouse, or that the painting of Michelle Obama did not look like her at all. But the writers at the New Yorker could barely contain their enthusiasm.

Staff writer Vinson Cunningham writes glowingly of Barack Obama’s portrait:

Obama’s truest political gift, perhaps, was the ability to let a thousand flowers of expectation, born of history, bloom. The flora in the portrait represent the stations of Obama’s scattered personal and ancestral past—blue lilies for Kenya; jasmine for Hawaii; chrysanthemums for Chicago—and their momentary intrusions might hint at the ways in which the man was somewhat shrouded by the dazzling story that delivered him into his nation’s arms. He was hyper-visible and yet always partly hidden.

Fellow staff writer Doreen St. Félix is similarly touched by Michelle Obama’s portrait — though she has to dance delicately around the question of whether it actually looks like the former First Lady:

The painting is shocking because Sherald has somehow conjured a vision of Michelle Obama, one of the most photographed women in history, that we have not yet seen—one free of the candid Washingtonian glamour … From some distance, I can imagine, the figure might not be immediately recognizable.

In public exit interviews, Michelle Obama is open about her relief that the eight years is over. The portrait, beautiful and discomfiting, is like a memory of what we never knew.

Conservative critic Ed Morrissey of HotAir commented Monday: “Both of the Obamas deserved better than what we saw today, whether they truly enjoyed these or were just trying their best to be gracious about it.”

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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