When Michelle Obama's official portrait by the Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald was unveiled on Monday, the painting behind the black veil received modest cheers and a round of polite - restrained, even - applause.
The paintings were revealed Monday at the gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian group of museums. The event was also significant as it was for the first time that not one, but two African-American artists were selected to paint the former POTUS and the FLOTUS.
Others joked that the television show The Simpsons inspired Mr Obama's portrait. "We're still trying to express our identity... when we do see ourselves we're sort of taken aback". Although each flower on the official portrait depicted his journey on Earth - chrysanthemum, the official flower of Chicago, Hawaii's jasmine, blue lilies from Africa - all symbolic of Obama's heritage, it reminded others of something else. She is known for painting African-American subjects in gray scale and surrounding and dressing them in bright colors.
Another portrait of President Obama will eventually be unveiled at the White House, though likely not for a few years.
Wiley is a Yale-educated painter who's highly regarded for his work.
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His portraits initially depicted African-American men against rich textile or wallpaper backgrounds whose patterns he has likened to abstractions of sperm.
Artist Amy Sherald created Michelle Obama's portrait, in which she wears a custom geometric halter dress designed by Michelle Smith, the creative director at Milly. I paint things I want to see. It also echoes, she did not add, a 2012 painting she did of a woman in a full-length, quilt-paneled skirt, Equilibrium, which is owned by the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal. The artist has described the influence that black and white photography has had on her style of portraiture. "They exist in a place of the past, the present and the future", she says.
Perhaps as a sign of the growing polarisation that the United States is experiencing, both portraits generated praise and admiration from the critics, who highlighted the place of the Obama in the history of the USA, and reactions from a perplexed public, trying to decipher the message. And yet this is how the subject would like posterity-young black girls especially, she said in a speech-to see her, through Sherald's vision: as a herald of success.
Ostensibly, the artist is saying that his piece is intended as a reflection on black rage - not as an exhortation for African-American women to decapitate as many white devils as they can. "But most of all, I am so incredibly grateful to all the people who came before me in this journey".
Cillizza: How much of a social statement is made by the Michelle Obama portrait?