Obama portraits to be unveiled at Art Institute of Chicago Friday

Chicago News

CHICAGO — It’s a homecoming of sorts for one of Chicago’s most iconic couples as a unique exhibit will be unveiled to the public on Friday.

Beginning Friday, the Barack and Michelle Obama portraits will be on display in their own gallery at The Art Institute of Chicago, which holds sentimental value for the power couple.

“This is an honor and a privilege,” said Jordan Carter, the associate curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. “How many times can you hang a presidential portrait inside your museum?”

The presidential portraits by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald contain certain symbolic elements. For example, the flowers in Barack Obama’s painting were chosen very specifically. One is the chrysanthemum, which is Chicago’s flower, emphasizing his ties to the city. Another is the African lily, a nod to Obama’s Kenyan heritage. The third is a white jasmine flower, which speaks to his birthplace of Hawaii.  

The exhibit runs from Friday, June 18 through Aug. 15, Carter added.

Chicago, of course has quite a connection to the former president and first lady.

“Its their home, this is their home,” Carter said. “It’s fantastic to welcome them here in this form.”

The gallery is where the Obamas’ romance began.  

“Where we are standing right now is where they had their first formal first date,” Carter said inside the institute.

The paintings are also historic in their own ways. Wiley and Sherald are the first African American artists to be commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery to create official portraits of a president or first lady. 

“And it happens to be the first Black president and first lady,” Carter said. “So those are some huge firsts.”

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