Barack and Michelle Obama’s official portraits will go on a five-city tour of U.S. museums.
Barack and Michelle Obama pose with Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, and the artists’ portraits of the former U.S. president and first lady during a ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery on February 12, 2018. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images.
Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald’s iconic portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama will begin a five-city tour of the U.S. in 2021. Washington, D.C.’s National Portrait Gallery—which saw a spike in attendance after the paintings were unveiled in 2018—will send the two paintings to the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the High Art Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The roughly year-long tour will begin on June 18, 2021 in Chicago and conclude on May 30, 2022, in Houston.
In a statement, the National Portrait Gallery’s director, Kim Sajet, said:
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. 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.
Wiley and Sherald were the first African American artists commissioned to create official portraits of a U.S. president and first lady. Wiley slightly dialed back his distinctive style for his glowing rendering of Barack, seated and surrounded by verdant leafery. “I had to explain that I’ve got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon! You’ve got to bring it down a touch,” the former president joked at the paintings’ unveiling ceremony. (Wiley’s work will be directly juxtaposed with Jacques-Louis David’s famous portrait of Napoleon at a Brooklyn Museum exhibition opening Friday.)
Sherald, meanwhile, painted Michelle in her trademark style, with grey skin tones and pastel hues. Echoing comments the former first lady made at the unveiling ceremony, the painting became a viral sensation thanks to a photo of awe-struck two-year-old Parker Curry gazing up at the painting in wonder.