The wildly popular Obama portraits are going on a year-long tour to museums across the country

Former president Barack Obama unveils his portrait by Kehinde Wiley at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in February 2018. (The Washington Post)

The Washington Post

The wildly popular Obama portraits are going on a year-long tour to museums across the country

The incredibly popular Obamas will be leaving Washington next year for a five-city tour.

Their portraits, that is. The paintings of former president Barack Obama — by Kehinde Wiley — and first lady Michelle Obama — by Amy Sherald — have attracted record crowds to the National Portrait Gallery. Starting in June 2021, the portraits will travel to five cities, giving new audiences a chance to experience them.

“We’re a history museum and an art museum, and they are really great representations of both. This tour is an opportunity for audiences in different parts of the country to witness how portraiture can engage people,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, the museum that commissioned the works. “You can use these portraits as a portal to all sorts of conversations.”

The tour will begin at the Art Institute of Chicago (June 18-Aug. 15, 2021) before moving to the Brooklyn Museum (Aug. 27-Oct. 24, 2021), 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).

The cities were selected by the gallery for personal and geographical reasons. The Obamas have deep connections to Chicago, for example, and the works will be there when the former president celebrates his 60th birthday. Sherald grew up in Georgia, and Wiley was born in Los Angeles, so those stops made sense, Sajet said. Wiley’s studio is based in Brooklyn, and its museum has several of his works in its collection.

Thursday’s tour announcement coincides with the publication of “The Obama Portraits,” an illustrated book from the Smithsonian Institution and the Princeton University Press that celebrates the portraits and their influence. Wiley and Sherald are the first African American artists to be selected for the gallery’s portraits of a president or first lady, and their paintings have drawn millions to the gallery since their splashy unveiling in February 2018.

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