The line to take a photo of Obama’s portrait stretches out of the Portrait Gallery, into a stairwell, and out into the courtyard. Insane,” tweeted political reporter Igor Bobic on February 16. That was four days after two new portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama were unveiled at the National Portrait gallery in downtown Washington, DC.
A huge huge uptick in pedestrian foot traffic has been seen at the National Portrait Gallery since the Obama portraits arrived. The two works were commissioned by the gallery and now part of their permanent collection.
According to the gallery, the average number of daily visits to their website and other social media have exploded.
Incredibly, there was “a 311 percent increase in visitors year over year for President’s Day Weekend. Compared to 16,041 visitors over the same three days in 2017, the holiday weekend saw 50,024 guests cross the threshold this year, with over 20,000 on Sunday alone. Since the paintings went on view Tuesday, 72,146 people have visited the museum,” according to ArtNet magazine.
New York based artist Kehinde Wiley created the portrait of President Obama and Baltimore artist Amy Sherald painted a portrait of Michelle Obama. Both Wiley and Sherald rendered Barack and Michelle Obama in a way never before seen in modern portraiture.
Wiley featured former President Obama seated in a chair with stark greenery behind him. Sherald rendered Michelle Obama seated and looking forward wearing a long flowing dress of many patterns. The portraits have gained widespread attention and reaction, some positive, some negative.
Wiley, 41 and Sherald, 44 are both African American and have displayed a very contemporary photo realistic style. Their work has won the type of collective buzz that is likely to translate in success for residual products such as postcards, T shirts and other items that feature their work on the former President and First Lady.