The Obamas are back in L.A., and no it’s not for another Obamajam: Two paintings of Barack and Michelle Obama, which typically hang in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., are at LACMA from November 7, 2021 to January 2, 2022, their only West Coast stop on a five-city tour.
The portraits, which were unveiled in 2018, stand in stark contrast to the sober, warm glow of most presidential paintings. Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of Barack Obama (so boldly colorful that you need to see it to believe it) sets the former president in front of a wall of green foliage dotted with flowers that represent his professional and familial roots in Chicago, Hawaii and Kenya. And Michelle Obama’s portrait, painted by Amy Sherald, includes a grayscale depiction of the first lady against a blue background, wearing a dress adorned in colorful geometric patterns.
It’s sure to be a busy scene, but LACMA has thankfully put the side-by-side paintings into a spacious and otherwise nearly-empty room (aside from a wall of small inauguration photos by Catherine Opie, as well as a video installation). Getting an unobstructed view of the portraits, however, may be another matter entirely.
To complement the exhibition, LACMA has filled the adjacent gallery with the excellent “Black American Portraits,” a two-century–spanning display of works with Black Americans as the subjects. In addition, you’ll find a packed slate of related programming, including a free open house and talk with Amy Sherald (Nov 7), a virtual Black film series (Nov 8–Dec 17) and a bunch of other online workshops.
Access to the exhibition is included with general admission tickets to the museum ($25), which are released every other Thursday at 10am, starting on October 21. Psst: Don’t forget that L.A. County residents can visit for free on weekdays after 3pm, and all visitors can do so on a few full-day free visits during the exhibition’s run (Nov 7, 9, 20; Dec 14).