Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a member today »

The official portraits by Kehinde Wiley (left) and Amy Sherald (right) (photo by Blair Murphy for Hyperallergic)

As the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery celebrates its 50th year, it has announced that in 2018, attendance has doubled at the DC museum.

In February, the Portrait Gallery unveiled its most recent additions to the Presidential Wing — President Barack Obama painted by Kehinde Wiley, and First Lady Michelle Obama painted by Amy Sherald. The massive portraits went viral (with a photo of an awestruck two-year-old Parker Curry warming hearts across the Internet over the power of representation), and attendance skyrocketed.

The museum served over two million visitors in its 2018 fiscal year (which ended September 30), doubling its annual average of 1.1 million patrons since 2013. In a press release from October 3, Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said 66 percent of attendees in 2018 were millennials or gen-X individuals.

On March 24 alone, the day of the March For Our Lives, 35,968 people visited the museum. Sajet told Hyperallergic attendance in the Presidential portrait gallery was so high the museum was forced to close off the space until it cleared before others could be let in.

This year, the National Portrait Gallery ranked as the third-most visited Smithsonian museum, just behind the National Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The museum is free, as are all DC-based Smithsonian institutions.

Kehinde Wiley, “Barack Obama,” 2018. Oil on canvas (© 2018 Kehinde Wiley, courtesy the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

Amy Sherald, “Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama,” 2018. Oil on linen. (photo courtesy the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

Support Hyperallergic

As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever. 

Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.

Become a Member

Jasmine Weber

Jasmine Weber is Hyperallergic's news editor. She is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, particularly interested in Black art histories and visual culture....