The "Obama Portraits" at the Art Institute of Chicago (courtesy Art Institute of Chicago)

Responding to popular demand, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, announced today, February 9, that it has added two additional cities to the “Obama Portraits Tour”: San Francisco and Boston.

The blockbusting tour, featuring artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald’s respective official portraits of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, commenced last June at the Art Institute of Chicago before traveling to the Brooklyn Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The portraits are currently on view through March 20 at Atlanta’s High Art Museum.

The paintings were planned to be returned to the National Portrait Gallery after a fifth and final stop at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston from April 3 to May 30 but that has changed with two additional stops at San Francisco’s de Young Museum (June 18–August 14) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (September 3–October 30).

“The very presentation of ‘The Obama Portraits Tour’ and the collaboration of eight premier institutions — the Portrait Gallery included — amidst a global pandemic speaks to the power of portraiture to bring audiences together,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery.

Unveiled in 2018, the Obama Portraits broke attendance records at the National Portrait Gallery, doubling its annual average of 1.1 million visitors. According to the Smithsonian, the portraits continued to break daily attendance records at their subsequent stop in Chicago, the Obamas’ hometown.

On social media, a search for the hashtag #ObamaPortraitsTour yields thousands of selfies with the portraits, taken at museums across the country. Many feature multi-generational families, who visited the portraits for educational value.

Adrienne Annice, who visited the portraits with her family at High Art Museum, later tweeted that she told her child: “See President Obama? You can grow up to be President!”

“I appreciate the Obama’s intentionality in leaning into their Blackness as a way to inspire generations to come to act, think, do without limits,” she added, calling the tour “so emotionally fulfilling.”  

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...