Michelle Obama visits with her new admirer. A work by Theaster Gates, made with de-commissioned fire hoses, hangs above the sofa behind them.

 
As social media is apt to do, two strangers were brought together this week after a sweet image went viral capturing the attention and hearts of thousands. The encounter gave a glimpse of Michelle Obama’s walls where works by Theaster Gates and Kerry James Marshall are displayed.
 

YESTERDAY, I STOPPED BY the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. After the official portraits of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were unveiled on Feb. 12, the paintings went on view in the Washington, D.C., museum’s galleries.

Mrs. Obama’s portrait by Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald is on the first floor in the New Acquisitions corridor where it is garnering great interest. Rope and stanchion has been set up with a sign that reads “Michelle Obama: Photo queue.” Guards monitor the line, keeping visitors moving as they view the First Lady’s portrait and take selfies and group photos with the painting.

Last week, the image of a young two-year old girl staring up at the painting went viral on social media. She appears transfixed by the image of Obama. Jessica Curry, the mother of the Washington toddler, told CNN her daughter, Parker, was in awe and thought Obama was a queen. The portrait is having the affect Obama envisioned and referenced in her remarks last month at the unveiling ceremony.

“I have to tell you that as I stand here today with all of you and look at this amazing portrait that will hang among so many iconic figures, I am a little overwhelmed to say the least…,” Obama said.

“I am also thinking of all the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution. I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls.”

“I am also thinking of all the young people, particularly girls and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution.” — Michelle Obama


Another museum patron captured the photo of Parker gazing up at First Lady Michelle Obama’s portrait and posted it on his Facebook page, garnering thousands of likes and shares. | Image by Ben Hines via Facebook

 

ALL THE ATTENTION the sweet image generated resulted in Parker and her mother meeting with Obama in her office yesterday. Obama posted an image and video with Parker on Instagram, which has created even more online interest, including more than a million likes. In the background, works by Chicago-based artists Kerry James Marshall and Theaster Gates can be seen.

The Obamas made a concerted effort to promote and live with art by African American artists while they were in the White House. Mrs. Obama installed “Resurrection” by Alma Thomas in the Old Family Dining Room in 2015. The painting was the first artwork by an African American woman to enter the permanent collection of the White House. In their private living quarters, they displayed works by Glenn Ligon, William H. Johnson, and Thomas, among other artists, borrowed from museums. Their love of art and commitment to African American artists apparently has not abated post-presidency.

The Obamas made a concerted effort to promote and live with art by African American artists while they were in the White House. …Their love of art and commitment to African American artists apparently has not abated post-presidency.

In the image Obama posted on Instagram, a mixed-media work by Gates composed of de-commissioned fire hoses hangs above a sofa. It is a tonal abstract work that contains important social and political content referencing the Civil Rights Movement when police trained dogs and fire hoses on peaceful protestors. Gates has made a number of the symbolic works.

A work from Kerry James Marshall’s ongoing “Vignettes” series is reflected in a mirror on another wall. Inspired by Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s 18th century series The Progress of Love, the vignettes depict a couple in ideal settings and scenes of bliss, perhaps reminding the Obamas of their own love story.

Both artists have connections with the Obamas. When “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” the artist’s 30-year survey, was on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Obama toured the exhibition with Marshall. Last fall, Gates participated in the Obama Foundation’s inaugural summit.

After visiting with her young admirer, Obama accompanied her Instagram post with the following caption: “Parker, I’m so glad I had the chance to meet you today (and for the dance party)! Keep on dreaming big for yourself…and maybe one day I’ll proudly look up at a portrait of you!” CT

 

BOOKSHELF
“The Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition 2016: American Portraiture Today” is covered by an Amy Sherald image that earned her first place in the competition, bringing her to the attention of museum curators who included her among the group of artists the Obamas selected among when deciding who would paint their portraits. Recently released by Phaidon, “Kerry James Marshall” is a fully illustrated documentation of the artist’s career and includes a conversation with fellow artist Charles Gaines. “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” a comprehensive, cloth-covered catalog was published to accompany the artist’s 30-year survey. “Theaster Gates” is the first monograph documenting the practice of the Chicago-based artist whose work “includes space development, object making, performance and critical engagement with many publics.” Published last month, “Theaster Gates: Black Archive” explores his collection of “Negrobilia,” historic African American objects often defined by racist images or symbols.

 


March 6, 2018: A work from Kerry James Marshall’s Vignettes series can be seen in the background as Michelle Obama dances with Parker, a young admirer who was transfixed by her portrait painting at the National Portrait Gallery. | Video via @michelleobama on Twitter

 

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