The vibrant portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama that debuted at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery are coming to Chicago for the first time later this month as part of a nationwide touring exhibition—and for a limited time, you'll have a chance to see the colorful artworks in-person for free. The Art Institute of Chicago, which is hosting the limited-run exhibition, announced today that it will offer a week of free museum admission for Illinois residents, beginning with the portraits' June 18 debut.
Normally housed at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Obama Portraits were unveiled to much fanfare in 2018, making waves for their vivid color palettes and for being the first official presidential portraits created by African-American artists. Barack Obama's portrait, painted by Kehinde Wiley, depicts the former president against a background of lush greenery and flowers with symbolic ties to his life and career (including chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago), while Amy Sherald's portrait of Michelle Obama shows the gowned former first lady looking pensively at the viewer against a light blue background.
The Art Institute—coincidentally a spot the Obamas visited on their first date, and a favorite destination for Michelle Obama when she was growing up on the South Side—is the first of the portraits' five-stop tour across the U.S. this summer. They'll be on display in Chicago for just two months, from June 18 through August 15, before continuing on to Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston.
You'll need to make an online reservation to claim your free ticket, and we recommend acting quickly when spots open up on June 4. When the portraits debuted in Washington D.C. three years ago, the National Portrait Gallery's attendance reportedly skyrocketed by more than 300 percent. If you're interested in learning more about the portraits' historical and artistic significance, tune in on June 30 for a free virtual conversation with Michelle Obama and artist Amy Sherald, who will discuss importance of Black representation in the arts.