The celebrated portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, brought more than a million visitors to the National Portrait Gallery during their first year in Washington, D.C. And now millions more can see them when they set out to tour America.
Between June 2021 and May 2022, the Obama portraits will reportedly travel to five U.S. museums. The tour will kick off with a stop at the Art Institute of Chicago, and from there they will visit the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Museum of Fine Arts Houston in Texas.
“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,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a statement. “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 Obama portraits have been considered some of the defining artworks of the 2010s, with Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama appearing on a recent ARTnews list of the most important artistic offerings of the decade. And both were considered a breakthrough from the moment they were known, as Wiley and Sherald were the first African-American artists to be commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to paints portraits of a president. In their first year on view, the portraits brought in enough people that the National Portrait Gallery’s attendance figures roughly doubled, to 2.3 million.