National Portrait Gallery Engages Audiences Across the Country With Five-City Tour of the Acclaimed Obama Portraits by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald

Tour To Include Chicago, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Houston Starting June 2021

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery has announced a five-city tour next year of the portraits of President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, that will launch during the summer of 2021. Next year, in mid-May 2021, the Obama portraits, commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, will temporarily go off view from the museum’s exhibitions for tour preparation.

The official portraits of President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama, on permanent view at The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald (Image provided by The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery)

The tour will commence in Chicago, June 18, 2021, and will continue, with the works traveling across the country, through May 30, 2022. This is one of several initiatives being set by the Portrait Gallery to engage communities nationwide throughout the next four years. The artworks are expected to reach millions of people who may not be able to visit Washington, D.C.

We view the country as our community,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “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 paintings were commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and revealed in a special unveiling ceremony Feb. 12, 2018, in the presence of President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama, and the artists. Wiley and Sherald are the first African American artists to have been selected for the National Portrait Gallery’s official portraits of a President or First Lady.

In addition to the paintings, the tour will include an audio-visual element, Portrait Gallery-led teacher workshops and curatorial presentations in each location. In anticipation of the tour, the Portrait Gallery is also publishing a book in partnership with Princeton University Press. The Obama Portraits will be released Feb. 11.

With the Obama portraits, the National Portrait Gallery continues its more than 45-year legacy of touring exhibitions. American presidents, in particular, have been the subject of several Portrait Gallery exhibitions. The exhibition “Theodore Roosevelt: Icon of the American Century” (1998 to 2000) traveled to several cities as did “Portraits of the Presidents from the National Portrait Gallery” (2000 to 2005). The museum’s acclaimed “Lansdowne” portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart toured to seven venues in “George Washington: A National Treasure” (2002 to 2004). The National Portrait Gallery’s collection includes more than 1,600 portraits of U.S. presidents and is the nation’s only complete collection of U.S. presidents accessible to the public.

Tour venues include:

  • Art Institute of Chicago; Chicago—June 18, 2021–Aug. 15, 2021
  • Brooklyn Museum; Brooklyn, New York—Aug. 27, 2021–Oct. 24, 2021
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Los Angeles—Nov. 5, 2021–Jan. 2, 2022
  • High Art Museum; Atlanta—Jan. 14, 2022–March 13, 2022
  • The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Houston—March 25, 2022–May 30, 2022
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