July 28, 2021
The groundbreaking portraits of President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama—painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively—go on view at the Brooklyn Museum this August in the paintings’ only Northeastern stop on their five-city tour, organized by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Transforming traditions of American presidential portraiture, the paintings document two unprecedented occasions: the election of the first Black president of the United States, and the selection of the first Black artists to receive the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s commission for portraits of a president or first lady.
In painting these two portraits, and in close consultation with their sitters, Wiley and Sherald re-envisioned the centuries-long tradition of representing political leaders. Their images of the Obamas present a striking contrast to the formality of earlier presidential portraits and images of first ladies. Before photography, these older portraits often served as the primary image of a president. Today, our presidents and first ladies are constantly in the spotlight and their images are ubiquitous.
The Obama Portraits exhibition reflects the Brooklyn Museum’s own rich history of exploring ideas of portraiture, iconography, and representation of power across time and cultures. Visitors will be encouraged to explore those themes by drawing comparisons with other works on view throughout the Museum’s collection galleries, including Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington (1796) and Wiley’s Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005), as well as examples in our Ancient Egyptian Art, Arts of Asia, and Decorative Arts galleries.
Through the presentation of these now-iconic works by Wiley and Sherald, as well as others across the Museum’s collection galleries, the exhibition contemplates how portraiture has given visual form to ideas of power, identity, status, and legacy throughout history.
About The Obama Portraits Tour:
The five-city tour travels the United States from June 2021 through May 2022 and is expected to reach millions of people. Other tour locations include the Art Institute of Chicago (June 18–August 15, 2021), Los Angeles County Museum of Art (November 7, 2021–January 2, 2022), High Museum of Art, Atlanta (January 14–March 13, 2022), and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (March 25–May 30, 2022). The Obama Portraits Tour is accompanied by a richly illustrated book published by National Portrait Gallery and Princeton University Press.
The Obama Portraits Tour has been organized by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. Support for the national tour has been generously provided by Bank of America.
The Brooklyn presentation is curated by Jane Dini, Andrew W. Mellon Senior Curator, American Art, and Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Senior Curator, Contemporary Art, with Joseph Shaikewitz, Curatorial Assistant, Arts of the Americas and Europe, Brooklyn Museum. Major support for the Brooklyn presentation is provided by the Brooklyn Museum’s Contemporary Art Committee. Generous support is provided by Regina Aldisert and Saundra Williams-Cornwell and W. Don Cornwell.