For his farewell speech, President Barack Obama broke with tradition, opting to deliver his parting words at McCormick Place in Chicago, the city where he began his career, rather than at the White House. “It’s good to be home,” he told the crowd. He then reflected on the man he was when he first arrived in Chicago in his early 20s, a time when he was “still searching for a purpose to my life.” He found it as a community activist, working with “church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills,” witnessing “the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.” In Chicago he “learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it,” a lesson that led him to the White House. And so it is in Chicago that the Obama Portraits Tour begins. The exhibition presents the official presidential portraits of both Barack and Michelle Obama, by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald respectively. The works are as pioneering as their subjects. Wiley and Sherald were the first Black artists to be commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery for official portraits of a president or first lady. New York is its second stop, then the tour will move to Los Angeles, and then to two cities in the South. —C.J.F.
Travels to: LACMA, Los Angeles (November 5, 2021 – January 2, 2022); the High Museum of Art, Atlanta (January 14 – March 13, 2022); the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (March 27 – May 3, 2022)