Michelle Obama’s Portrait So Popular It Needed A Bigger Gallery

If a portrait of Michelle Obama gets any more popular, she'll likely make the Mona Lisa jealous. That could be the surreal consensus in the visual art world, what with the unprecedented amount of foot traffic to Obama's likeness, which was publicly unveiled in February at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

But with nearly 200,000 people who have since showed up just to ogle the larger-than-life image, Smithsonian staff have relocated the Amy Sherald work to the 20th-Century Americans gallery on the third floor, simply because there's more space to accommodate the crowds. One weekend in March saw nearly 50,000 people wanting to see the portrait of the First Lady posing against a baby-blue background in one of her favorite gowns, designed by Michelle Smith who works for fashion label Milly.

The Sherald work has been highly controversial in that its style is far more contemporary than the traditional way portraits have been painted. For openers, the Baltimore artist isn't a big fan of skin color to identify her subject on canvas. Instead of black epidermal tones, Obama is grey instead, which might also press home the shade of current issues surround racism and other social injustices.

The Baltimore artist has been at the center of dispute between those who love the painting and those who have heavily criticized it. Supporters have chimed in that the chosen skin colors take a skeptical stance on how African-Americans have been preserved in visual art the past several years. Opponents claim that the work doesn't even look like Obama and that the Sherald creation is a blatant distortion of reality.


While Michelle Obama's portrait has been getting all the attention, the same can't be said for a similar painting of her husband, President Barack Obama. Like the image of his wife, the Barack work by Kehinde Wiley is just as surrealistic as it abandons the traditional power poses of his presidential predecessors. Instead, the 44th President is posed crouching in a chair amidst a wall of foliage, with botanical references to: Chicago where he was raised, Hawaii where he was born, and Kenya his father's birthplace.

His portrait has enjoyed plenty of traffic as well, but will still remain in the National Portrait Gallery section of the Smithsonian.

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