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The Obama Portraits are coming to NYC next month

They'll be here for a limited time only!

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

Those incredible portraits of the Obamas, famous for breaking tradition from past presidential portraiture, are finally making their way to NYC.

Between August 27 and October 24, The Obama Portraits by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald will be on display at the Brooklyn Museum for New Yorkers to see in person.

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Their official likenesses are leaving their home at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. for a national tour that began at the Art Institute of Chicago—the Obamas’ hometown. After its Brooklyn stop, it’s on to Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the High Art Museum in Atlanta and finally The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

The Obama Portraits
Photograph: Kehinde Wiley, courtesy The Brooklyn Museum

Wiley and Sherald, both Black artists, were respectively commissioned to paint Barack and Michelle Obama. The works are departures from your typical presidential portraiture. Wiley chose to depict the President against a thick backdrop of foliage punctuated by floral blossoms, while Sherald pictured the First Lady swathed in a voluminous dress decorated with an Art Deco pattern. Additionally, Sherald painted her in gray skin tones, a motif the artist uses to de-emphasize the issue of race in her work while also setting up color contrasts that make her subjects appear to pop from the canvas.

They also document two unprecedented occasions: the election of the first Black president of the U.S. 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. 

The Brooklyn Museum's exhibit featuring the Obama Portraits will showcase its own rich history of exploring ideas of portraiture, iconography, and representation of power across time and cultures, it says. Visitors will be able to compare them to other works, including Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington (1796) and Wiley’s Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005), as well as examples in the Ancient Egyptian Art, Arts of Asia, and Decorative Arts galleries.

The Obama Portraits
Photograph: Amy Sherald, courtesy The Brooklyn Museum

To see them in person, you'll have to purchase a separate exhibition ticket, which must be reserved in advance online. The Obama Portraits tickets include general admission (pay what you wish) to the museum.

Otherwise, there is a slew of great events surrounding the exhibit, including an opening celebration on Saturday, August 28 with a DJ set by Niara Sterling and a musical tribute by the legendary Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, poetry, a pop-up market and more. Additionally, there will be a talk "The Sartorial Vision of Michelle Obama," on September 2, a drink and draw event on September 16, an art history happy hour on October 21 and more.

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