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The Obama Portraits

Exhibition

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In summer 2021, the Art Institute of Chicago welcomes two acclaimed portraits to its galleries: Kehinde Wiley’s painting of President Barack Obama and Amy Sherald’s portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama.

On loan from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the Obama portraits come to Chicago for the first stop of a five-city tour. As the family’s longtime home, Chicago has a unique connection to the Obamas, as does the Art Institute. The First Lady recalls visiting frequently with her family when she was growing up on the South Side, and the museum was also the site of the couple’s first date.

A painting shows President Obama sitting in a wooden, arms resting on knees, against a backdrop of lush greenery and flowers.

Barack Obama, 2018


Kehinde Wiley. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The National Portrait Gallery is grateful to the following lead donors: Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg; Judith Kern and Kent Whealy; Tommie L. Pegues and Donald A. Capoccia. © 2018 Kehinde Wiley

Not only do the portraits feature history-making subjects but they were made by groundbreaking artists. Wiley and Sherald are the first African Americans to be commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to create official portraits of a President or First Lady. Wiley placed a seated President Obama against a backdrop of flowers with special significance, including chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago. Sherald captured the First Lady against light-blue ground, sitting and gazing directly at the viewer.

A painting of First Lady Michelle Obama sitting wearing a striking graphic evening gown against a pale blue backdrop.

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, 2018


Amy Sherald. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The National Portrait Gallery is grateful to the following lead donors: Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg; Judith Kern and Kent Whealy; Tommie L. Pegues and Donald A. Capoccia

The Art Institute is thrilled to provide our visitors—from Chicago and around the world—the opportunity to experience the power and beauty of these celebrated works in our galleries. After the Art Institute presentation, the portraits will travel on to the Brooklyn Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, High Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

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