Left: Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley (2018) (image © 2018 Kehinde Wiley, courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution); right: Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama by Amy Sherald (2018) (image courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

Mark your calendars, because the Obamas are coming. Well, not exactly in flesh, but it’s still exciting news: Starting in June 2021, the official portraits of Michelle and Barack Obama will leave the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC to tour five cities across the United States.

Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald’s portraits of the presidential couple will start their tour at the Art Institute of Chicago (June 18–August 15, 2021) before traveling to the Brooklyn Museum (August 27–October 24, 2021), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (November 5, 2021–January 2, 2022), the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (January 14–March 13, 2022), and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (March 25–May 30, 2022).

“Since the unveiling of these two portraits of the Obamas, the Portrait Gallery has experienced a record number of visitors, not only to view these works in person, but to be part of the communal experience of a particular moment in time,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, in a statement. “This tour is an opportunity for audiences in different parts of the country to witness how portraiture can engage people in the beauty of dialogue and shared experience.”

According to Sajet, the venues were selected based on personal and geographical affinities. Chicago is the Obamas’ former home city, and the works will be there when the former president celebrates his 60th birthday. Sherald hails from Georgia, and Wiley was born in Los Angeles. The latter now has a studio in Brooklyn, and several of his works are in the Brooklyn Museum’s permanent collection.

In addition to the portraits, the tour will include audio-visual supplements, teacher workshops, and curatorial presentations in each location.

A hashtag for the tour is already in place (#obamaportraitstour) and a book is on the way. The Obama Portraits will be released in partnership with Princeton University Press on February 11.

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...

4 replies on “Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley’s Portraits of the Obamas Get a National Tour”

  1. I would not cross the street to see a painting of the awful neoliberal drone bombing murderer Obama. Unless it was to do a Laslo Toth.

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