The National Portrait Gallery’s popular and distinctive portraits of former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will go on a five-city tour starting in 2021, the museum announced Thursday.
The portraits will leave Washington in June of 2021 to be featured in temporary exhibitions at five museums around the country: the Art Institute of Chicago (June 18-Aug. 15), the Brooklyn Museum (Aug. 27-Oct. 24), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Nov. 5-Jan. 2, 2022), the High Museum of Art in Atlanta (Jan. 14-March 13, 2022) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (March 25-May 30, 2022).
Unveiled in 2018, the iconic and revolutionary portraits have drawn record crowds to the museum and spawned viral moments. They’re also significant for being the first official presidential and first lady portraits at the museum that were created by Black artists, hand-picked by the Obamas. The former president’s portrait is by Kehinde Wiley, and the former first lady’s is by Amy Sherald.
Some of the cities on the tour were selected because of their significance to the Obamas or to the artists. Sherald is a Georgia native, and Wiley was born in Los Angeles and has a studio and several works in Brooklyn, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the news of the tour Thursday.
The tour is among multiple initiatives the museum has planned to bring its work to people around the country who may not have the resources to visit the nation’s capital. On Feb. 11, it will release a book called “The Obama Portraits,” which is tied to the national tour.
“We view the country as our community,” the museum’s director, Kim Sajet, said in a statement Thursday announcing the tour. “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.”
In 2018, the first year the Obamas’ portraits were on view, the museum welcomed a record 2.3 million visitors, compared with 1.3 million the year before.
Visitors to Washington will have until mid-May of 2021 to view the portraits, before the museum’s staff prepares them for the national tour, the Portrait Gallery said.