Obama Portraits to Tour the Country in 2021

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12: Former U.S. President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama stand next to their newly unveiled portraits during a ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, on February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. The portraits were commissioned by the Gallery, for Kehinde Wiley to …
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Portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama will tour the nation from June 2021 through May 2022 so more people can make the “pilgrimage” to see them.

Artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald are the first black artists ever included in the National Portrait Gallery’s (NPG) official roster of presidential portraits. Their work has proven extremely popular, to the point of National Portrait Gallery director Kim Sajet characterizing visits to see them as a sort of “pilgrimage.”

In a 2019 article for The Atlantic, Sajet wrote: “Viewing these paintings was turning into a form of secular pilgrimage, and the museum was becoming even more popular as a communal gathering place.” According to an NPG security guard, identified only as “Rhonda” in the piece, one woman even fell to her knees and prayed before the pictures.“No other painting gets the same kind of reactions. Ever,” Sajet said she was told.

“Since the unveiling of these two portraits of the Obamas, the Portrait Gallery has experienced a record number of visitors,” Sajet said in a statement, “not only to view these works in person, but to be part of the communal experience of a particular moment in time.”

Sajet described the tour as “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.” Next year’s tour will begin at the Art Institute of Chicago and wrap up the next year at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas.

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