Art Institute of Chicago

Obama Portraits Headed for Chicago on First Stop of Cross-Country Tour

The tour will begin at the Art Institute of Chicago in June, 2021

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Portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama will leave the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery for Chicago next summer.

The artwork by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald is set for a five-city tour in 2021, the gallery announced, with Chicago being the first stop.

The tour will begin at the Art Institute on June 18, where it will stay through Aug. 15, officials said.

Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama unveiled their official portraits Monday morning at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

Other cities on the tour include New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston.

“We view the country as our community,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a statement. “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 first revealed last February, with Wiley and Sherald being the first African American artists selected to create the official portraits of a president or first lady.

Barack Obama’s portrait even has a special nod to Chicago.

The 44th president’s portrait stands in particular contrast to its predecessors for its background: while many of the presidential paintings inside the National Portrait Gallery are set against the muted colors of a dusty study or unfocused horizon, bright green vines lace up and around Obama’s figure, with bright flowers peeking out from the foliage.

The choice and design of the flowers wasn’t accidental: the official flower of Chicago — pink and gold chrysanthemums — dots the painting. The background also includes jasmine from Hawaii, where Obama was born, as well as African blue lilies, which represent the birthplace of Obama’s father: Kenya. 

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