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07.08.21 | Arts & Culture

Visiting the Obama Portraits at the Art Institute of Chicago

This summer, the beautiful and inspiring Obama portraits – depicting 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, and first lady, Michelle Obama – will be gracing the walls of the Art Institute of Chicago for just eight brief weeks. With such a limited viewing period, below we’re outlining how to plan your visit to see these seminal works of art ASAP!

Visiting the Portraits

Access to viewing The Obama Portraits is included in General Admission for all Art Institute visitors. However, the exhibition does have a capacity-limit, and entry is first-come, first-served.

Tickets must be reserved in advance online, and entry to the exhibit on the day of your visit will be managed via virtual lines. General Admission tickets are being released in limited, timed batches, as outlined below:

  • Tickets for July 1–15 will be available on June 24.
  • Tickets for July 16–31 will be available on July 8.
  • Tickets for August 1–8 will be available on July 22.
  • Tickets for August 9–15 will be available on August 2.

A limited quantity of tickets will also be available onsite for qualifying groups. Learn more about free admission guidelines at the Art Institute of Chicago here.

Remarkable Works

While many other Presidential Portraits in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery have been traditional, head-and-shoulders portraits painted in classical styles, President Barack Obama took a notably different approach.

Barack Obama commissioned Kehinde Wiley to create his portrait. Wiley is an American portrait artist known for his placement of contemporary (typically African American) figures in the guise of powerful historical figures. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama commissioned Amy Sherald to create her portrait. Sherald is an American artist known for her arresting, otherworldly portraits that document the contemporary African-American experience.

Wiley and Sherald are the first African Americans to be commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to create official portraits of a president or first lady. The resulting works are remarkably contemporary.

In the larger-than-life, head-to-toe portrait created by Wiley, a seated Obama is set against a backdrop of lush greenery. Each plant in the background holds a special significance, including chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago. The portrait of Michelle Obama, created by Sherald, was based on a posed photograph and is intentional down to every last detail, from the grey-scaling of Michelle’s skin to the intensity of her direct gaze.

You can visit the Obama Portraits at the Art Institute of Chicago now through August 15, 2021; tickets are available for purchase here.

And for those interested in a fascinating, rich conversation between Michelle Obama and Amy Sherald, hosted by The Studio Museum of Harlem Director + Chief Curator Thelma Golden, you’ll find it here.


Photo of Obama Portraits
(L) Kehinde Wiley. Barack Obama, 2018. Oil on canvas. (R) Amy Sherald. Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama (detail), 2018. Oil on linen. Photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.
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