Chicago is the first stop for the Obama portraits as part of a five-city tour organized by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. As the family’s longtime home, Chicago has a unique connection to the Obamas, as does the Art Institute. Michelle Obama 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.
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 former first lady against light-blue ground, sitting and gazing directly at the viewer.
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.