The groundbreaking portraits of President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama—painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, are currently on view at the Brooklyn Museum. Transforming traditions of American presidential portraiture, the paintings document two unprecedented occasions: the election of the first Black president of the United States, 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. In painting these two portraits, and in close consultation with their sitters, Wiley and Sherald re-envisioned the centuries-long tradition of representing political leaders. Their images of the Obamas present a striking contrast to the formality of earlier presidential portraits and images of first ladies. Before photography, these older portraits often served as the primary image of a president. Today, our presidents and first ladies are constantly in the spotlight and their images are ubiquitous.
“The Obama Portraits” exhibition reflects the Brooklyn Museum’s own rich history of exploring ideas of portraiture, iconography, and representation of power across time and cultures. Visitors will be encouraged to explore those themes by drawing comparisons with other works on view throughout the Museum’s collection galleries, including Gilbert Stuart’s “George Washington” (1796) and Wiley’s “Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps” (2005), as well as examples in our Ancient Egyptian Art, Arts of Asia, and Decorative Arts galleries. Through the presentation of these now-iconic works by Wiley and Sherald, as well as others across the Museum’s collection galleries, the exhibition contemplates how portraiture has given visual form to ideas of power, identity, status, and legacy throughout history.
Opening Celebration: “The Obama Portraits”
Saturday, August 28, 4–8 pm, Free, but RSVP required.
Celebrate the opening of “The Obama Portraits” with an afternoon of music, art-making, and poetry in honor of these vibrant and groundbreaking depictions of American leadership. Enjoy a DJ set by Niara Sterling and a musical tribute by the legendary Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, who present a smorgasbord of diverse “avant groidd” musical idioms filled with sugar-soaked sonic ingredients. Then, Kyle Carrero Lopez, Nkosi Nkululeko, and celeste doaks read their original poetry presented in partnership with Cave Canem, Brooklyn’s leading organization dedicated to cultivating the artistic growth of Black poets. Throughout the day, shop and snack at the Brooklyn Pop-Up Market, which is spotlighting local Black artists and vendors this week, get a community portrait taken by Souls in Focus, and participate in art-making activities hosted by Cool Culture and Brooklyn Museum educators. In addition, Cool Culture will launch their Health, Wellbeing & Vaccine initiative providing families with reliable information on the COVID-19 vaccine and highlighting community-specific traditional healing practices.
Brooklyn Talks: The Sartorial Vision of Michelle Obama Thursday, September 2, 7 pm
Tickets are $30 and include after-hours admission to “The Obama Portraits”
From Inauguration Day to her official portrait by Amy Sherald, First Lady Michelle Obama powerfully expressed the values and vision of the Obama White House through her sartorial choices. Explore the former First Lady’s culture-shifting style with image strategist Meredith Koop—who has been Michelle Obama’s stylist since 2010, in the White House and for subsequent appearances—and fashion historian Kimberly M. Jenkins, Assistant Professor of Fashion Studies, Ryerson University, and founder and principal researcher for The Fashion and Race Database. The two discuss some of Michelle Obama’s key looks, starting with her official portrait, and explore the intersection between fashion and politics.
Drink and Draw: “The Obama Portraits”
Thursday, September 16, 7–9 pm
Tickets are $35 and include after-hours admission to “The Obama Portraits”
Sip and sketch in our backyard Biergarten this summer with a monthly series of life drawing classes, open to all levels and accompanied by a refreshing beverage and musical vibes by local DJs. Honor Black portraiture and power in this month’s class focusing on the vibrant and groundbreaking depictions of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald. Learn multimedia techniques and try your hand at various approaches to depicting the human form in a casual class led by Museum teaching artist James Antwine. Plus, enjoy a musical set by DJ InO.
Art History Happy Hour: “The Obama Portraits”
Thursday, October 21, 6 pm
Tickets are $45 and include 4 wine tastings, small bites, and after-hours admission to “The Obama Portraits”
Treat yourself to a curator talk and wine tasting inspired by the Obama portraits. We’ll begin with a talk with Jane Dini, Andrew W. Mellon Senior Curator, American Art, paired with a wine tasting hosted by wine expert Marquis Williams of Highly Recommended. Explore themes of portraiture and power, delve into the history of presidential portraiture, and explore the ways in which artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald paid homage to―and broke from―tradition in their iconic and innovative portrayals of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Then, visit the galleries for exclusive after-hours access to see the portraits in person.
Educational Offerings: Guided & Self-Guided Gallery Visits: “The Obama Portraits”
Free visits for all K–12 school groups, including a museum educator–led option for local schools and a self-guided option with resources for exploring the portraits in conversation with the collection.