Chicago embraces the Obama portraits at the Art Institute

The paintings of Barack and Michelle Obama will be on display until Aug. 15.

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Naseer Jaco-Cartman (left, in yellow stripes), 9, of Bronzeville stands with his brother, 5-year-old Akande Grey-Cartman, as they look at The Obama Portraits, featuring Kehinde Wiley’s painting of former President Barack Obama and Amy Sherald’s portrayal of former First Lady Michelle Obama, on the first day the official portraits are on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, Friday morning, June 18, 2021. The exhibit runs through Aug. 15 in Chicago.

Naseer Jaco-Cartman, 9, of Bronzeville, stands with his brother, 5-year-old Akande Grey-Cartman, as they look at “The Obama Portraits,” at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

People lined up Friday at the Art Institute under banners that read “From Chicago ... to the White House ... and back again” to be among the first to see “The Obama Portraits” in the place where Barack and Michelle had their first date 32 years ago.

“I think that they are a really wonderful and drastic departure from the conventional presidential portrait where somebody’s standing in a library or in front of a fireplace,” said Antar Jackson, 38, of Wicker Park. “It’s a commitment to modern society and embracing Black artistry.”

Jackson enjoyed how Michelle’s portrait leaned into the abstract.

“I love it so much because of the color contrast of it instead of doing something that was hyper-realistic,” he said. “You’re soaked in her ambition, love, desire, focus and everything that makes Michelle who she is.”

The portraits of the former president and first lady were painted by Black artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald.

Wiley’s 2018 portrait shows the 44th president seated on a chair amid a background of foliage.

People visit The Obama Portraits, featuring Kehinde Wiley’s painting of former President Barack Obama and Amy Sherald’s portrayal of former First Lady Michelle Obama, on the first day the official portraits are on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, Friday morning, June 18, 2021. The exhibit runs through Aug. 15 in Chicago.

“The Obama Portraits” exhibit opened to the public Friday at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Paden Brown, 13, of Beverly, loved the flowers’ significance. “The flowers represent him being from Chicago and his Hawaiian roots,” Paden said. “It’s nice to see the first Black president and first lady painted by Black artists.”

“Obama was the first president I got to vote for,” said Hannah MacCloud, 27, of Minneapolis. “It’s important for young people to see [the Obamas] in those roles and be inspired.”

In her portrait, Michelle posed in a gown of geometric shapes and bold patterns. Her skin and facial features are in grayscale — part of Sherald’s signature.

“Classic, beautiful, elegant — just like her,” said Lashanda McCoy, 26, of Lawndale, as she stood before Michelle Obama’s portrait.

Tayina Deravile, 34, of Fort Lauderdale, said, “My favorite part is seeing [the portraits] in real life. Just breathing in the same space, as weird as that sounds.”

Candice Washington, founder and executive director of Brown Books & Paint Brushes, brought some of her students to see the portraits. Her program educates young children about Black culture through art literacy and civic engagement.

“I like the texture and color,” said one of Washington’s 9-year-old students. “I was surprised by how big it was.”

“I like the linework and inclusion of the geometrical patterns from African American quilt work,” said Christina Greenlaw, 21, of Calumet City.

Chicago is the first stop in a five-city tour organized by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington. “The Obama Portraits” will travel to the Brooklyn Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

Tickets for the exhibit are sold out through June 27. Tickets for July 1-15 will be available beginning June 24 via the Art Institute’s website, https://www.artic.edu/.

People visit The Obama Portraits, featuring Kehinde Wiley’s painting of former President Barack Obama and Amy Sherald’s portrayal of former first lady Michelle Obama, on the first day the official portraits are on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, Friday morning, June 18, 2021. The exhibit runs through Aug. 15 in Chicago. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

“The Obama Portraits,” featuring Kehinde Wiley’s painting of former President Barack Obama and Amy Sherald’s portrayal of former first lady Michelle Obama, went on public display Friday at the Art Institute of Chicago,

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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