Tour of acclaimed Obama portraits coming to Chicago

Tour of acclaimed Obama portraits coming to Chicago
Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 2018. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The National Portrait Gallery is grateful to the following lead donors for their support of the Obama portraits: Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg; Judith Kern and Kent Whealy; Tommie L.Pegues and Donald A. Capoccia. © 2018 Kehinde Wiley(R)

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) has just announced that a five-city tour of the portraits of President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald will be making its first stop in Chicago.

The historic portraits, commissioned by President Obama before his departure from office, mark the first time that African American artists have been commissioned for the National Portrait Gallery’s official portraits of a President or First Lady.

The portraits feature a seated President Obama, placed by Wiley against a backdrop of flowers with special significance, including chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago. Sherald captured the First Lady against a light-blue ground, sitting and gazing directly at the viewer.

Next year, in mid-May 2021, the Obama portraits will temporarily go off view from the NPG’s gallery for tour preparation.

The tour will commence in Chicago on June 18, 2021, and will be here for two months before continuing across the country, through May 30, 2022.

The Art Institute of Chicago will be host for the exhibit. Commenting on the announcement, Art Institute President and Eloise W. Martin Director James Rondeau called it “a narrative homecoming that we’re excited about,” citing the couple’s first official date to the Art Institute and the 2008 presidential election night celebration “in our backyard” in Grant Park as key moments linking the couple to the institution and the city.

“Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama” by Amy Sherald, oil on linen, 2018. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The National Portrait Gallery is grateful to the following lead donors for their support of the Obama portraits: Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg; Judith Kern and Kent Whealy; Tommie L. Pegues and Donald A. Capoccia.

“Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama” by Amy Sherald, oil on linen, 2018. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The National Portrait Gallery is grateful to the following lead donors for their support of the Obama portraits: Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg; Judith Kern and Kent Whealy; Tommie L. Pegues and Donald A. Capoccia.

The Obama portraits will be keeping good company at the Art Institute of Chicago, surrounded by Renoir, Monet and Pissarro. 

They will be on view in the first gallery beyond the Grand Staircase by the institution’s iconic “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884” by the French artist Georges Seurat.

After leaving the Art Institute in August 2021, the Obama portraits will visit the Brooklyn Museum in New York City (Aug. - Oct.), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Nov. - Jan., 2022), the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (Jan. - March), and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (March - May).

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