Getting to meet the president of the United States is an honour that many people won’t see in their lifetime. Usually, the closest you get is visiting Washington DC, the Capitol Building, or, by heading to the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in DC to see the official presidential portraits. Of course, getting to DC is not always a possibility. The NPG, though, is prepping a tour of the Obama portraits to five cities across the US so that more people can see them first hand.
Kicking off in June 2021, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald’s portraits of Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, respectively, will leave the NPG to head to the Art Institute of Chicago. After two months there, they will continue their tour to the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the High Museum in Atlanta, before wrapping up at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in March 2022.
Since the paintings were unveiled in 2018, the paintings have attracted record visitors that have come to see the works. The paintings were the first official presidential and first lady portraits created by African American artists making them even more significant in the NPG’s collection of presidential portraits. Wiley, known for his vibrant portraits set against intricate backgrounds reportedly toned down his usual style for the president. ‘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,’ then president Obama recalled telling Wiley when the portrait was unveiled, according to Artsy. For Mrs. Obama’s portrait, Sherald’s minimalistic, yet colourful take on portraiture translated into a beautiful, understated depiction of the then first lady.
In a statement announcing the portrait’s upcoming tour, Kim Sajet, director of the NPG said:
‘We view the country as our community. 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.’
The portraits’ tour will bring them closer to millions across the country giving them the opportunity to see them. In tandem with their tour, will be a series of NPG-led workshops for teachers as well as presentations by curators. A book, titled The Obama Portraits will be released by the NPG detailing the artworks. This tour follows in the footsteps of other presidential portraits that have traveled around the country from the NPG.
The Obama portraits will be taken off view at the NPG in May of 2021 before traveling to the Art Institute of Chicago (June 18th 2021 – August 15th, 2021), the Brooklyn Museum (August 27th, 2021 – October 24th, 2021), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (November 5th, 2021 – January 2nd, 2022), the High Museum of Art (January 14th, 2022 – March 13th, 2022), and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (March 25th, 2022 – May 30th, 2022).