Oak Park Library can say, 'We knew him when'

Obama portrait painter's work part of local collection

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Contributing Reporter

What does the 44th president of the United States and a committee charged with selecting intriguing visuals to reflect a multicultural population and to transform a new building into a community and cultural center have in common? Good taste in art. 

President Barack Obama selected New York artist Kehinde Wiley to paint his image for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in mid-October. 

However, the Oak Park Public Library has had a Wiley oil on canvas, which hangs on the third floor of the main library, 834 Lake St., since May of 2004. 

"Easter Realness #2" hangs on the diagonal and is an impressive 9.75 square feet.   

When the main library opened in October 2003, a gala was held and bricks were sold to raise money for art fund. There was also $50,000 set aside in the budget, which covered restoring the 1966 "Unity and Growth" statue from the front of the previous library. An art committee formed to select new works from both local artists as well as others. 

Library Deputy Director Jim Madigan said the committee's aim was to acquire art that is challenging, intriguing and enduring.   

"I think intriguing was most important," he said. "And that things would stand up to multiple viewings, which it absolutely does."

Kehinde Wiley's "Easter Realness #2" cost $16,000 in 2004 when it was purchased from the Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago. The part pop art, part urban portraiture piece was appraised at $125,000 in January 2017.

Obama's portrait is slated for completion in 2018. According to The National Portrait Gallery website, it is "the only place outside of the White House where the public can view a complete collection of presidential portraits." 

The National Portrait Gallery is in Washington D.C. and admission is free. 

Admission is also always free at the Oak Park Public Library, where the Wiley and more than 20 other works of art in their permanent collection are on display. 

Reader Comments

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Jeremy Horn  

Posted: November 1st, 2017 4:58 PM

All I want to say is congratulations to Mr. Kehinde Wiley for being selected by former President Barack Obama to paint the official Smithsonian portrait of the 44th President of the United States. I always go to the Oak Park Public Library, because it is an amazing library and the staff is so friendly. I would love to see the portrait that is on the third floor. I really enjoyed reading the article.

William J. Kosik from Oak Park  

Posted: November 1st, 2017 2:03 PM

Ever since the painting was hung in the library, I have been intrigued by it. Over the last several years, I have come to the library at least 3 times per week and it never got old to me. It is great to see he is chosen to do President Obama's portrait. Great article by the way!

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