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The Smithsonian Institution’s poignant portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama are going on a national tour. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the pieces of art—which are currently housed inside of the Washington, D.C.-based National Portrait Gallery—will be displayed in five cities.

The iconic portraits—created by renowned artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald—were debuted at the museum in February 2018 and quickly evolved into staple pieces within the gallery. After witnessing how influential the artwork was amongst museumgoers, the institution decided to organize a tour to reach new audiences. The Obama Portraits Tour, which is slated to kick off in June 2021, will make its first stop at the Art Institute of Chicago. The portraits will spend two-month stints at the Brooklyn Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. As part of the tour, the National Portrait Gallery will lead workshops and forums about the power of portraiture and using art as a tool for community engagement. The pop-up exhibitions will also include audio-visual components.

“We wanted to be sure we shared the portraits with diverse audiences across the country. The Obamas really wanted these portraits to be for future generations,” said Dorothy Moss, who serves as the curator of painting and sculpture at the National Portrait Gallery. “These portraits aren’t just important historical documents. They’re important to art history in that they have pushed portraiture in a new direction.”

The portraits have been instrumental in attracting visitors to the National Portrait Gallery. The vibrant illustrations helped the institution break a visitorship record in 2019. The artwork has also become a source of inspiration. A viral photo of a toddler staring at Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama in amazement led to the creation of a children’s book.


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