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The Obama portraits are coming to LACMA in 2021

Barack Obama
Photograph: Pixabay

The Obamas are no strangers to L.A. The 44th president and the first lady were such frequent visitors that Angelenos sort-of-affectionately dubbed each traffic-inducing appearance of the presidential motorcade “Obamajam.” But here’s a new one: A pair of portraits of the Obamas is set to make their L.A. debut in 2021.

Two paintings of Barack and Michelle Obama, which typically hang in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., are set to embark on a five-city tour, starting in 2021. And of particular note to Angelenos: They’ll be on view at LACMA from November 5, 2021 to January 2, 2022.

The portraits, which were unveiled in 2018, stand in stark contrast to the sober, warm glow of most presidential paintings.

Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley, oil on canvas, 2018. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The National Portrait Gallery is grateful to the following lead donors for their support of the Obama portraits: Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg; Judith Kern and Kent Whealy; Tommie L.Pegues and Donald A. Capoccia. © 2018 Kehinde Wiley

Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama by Amy Sherald, oil on linen, 2018. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The National Portrait Gallery is grateful to the following lead donors for their support of the Obama portraits:Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg; Judith Kern and Kent Whealy; Tommie L. Pegues and Donald A. Capoccia.

Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of Barack Obama sets the 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.

Not to be confused with the stoic, official photographs that more closely resemble actors’ headshots, these portraits are typically unveiled at the end of a president’s term. And while the Obamas certainly aren’t the first to dabble in untraditional styles (Abstract Expressionist Elaine de Kooning painted John F. Kennedy’s portrait, while Chuck Close employed his squiggly pixels for Bill Clinton), their stunning portraits certainly stand out from their centuries of predecessors.

The L.A. visit falls in the middle of the portraits’ tour, following its debut in Chicago next June and then a move to New York, but preceding trips to Atlanta and Houston. LACMA has yet to announce ticketing details—we’ve reached out and we’ll update this post once we know more—but we won’t be surprised if this inspires James Turrell and Rain Room-caliber crowds. And here’s hoping the portraits’ journey to L.A. somehow includes a drive down both the President Barack H. Obama Highway stretch of the 134 and Obama Boulevard in Crenshaw.

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