The Obamas are returning to Atlanta.
Well, their portraits are. The Smithsonian’s portraits of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama will be on view at the High Museum, Jan. 14 through March 20, 2022. Tickets for the highly anticipated show go on sale Oct. 11 for High Museum members.
According to the museum, members will get first chance to purchase tickets from Oct. 11 to Oct. 15, 2021, with ticket sales open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily until member tickets are sold out. Tickets for Museum Pass holders go on sale Oct. 18 at 10 a.m. and ending Oct. 19 at 5 p.m. Tickets for the general public go on sale Oct. 25.
The portraits are part of a 5-city national tour sponsored by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, which is the permanent home for the works. The High is the only museum in the Southeast that will host the exhibit of the paintings by Kehinde Wiley, who did the former president’s portrait, and Columbus-native and Spelman College graduate Amy Sherald, who did the portrait of the former first lady.
“We are honored to present these portraits as the exclusive Southeastern venue for the tour and to afford our audiences an intimate experience with the works,” said Rand Suffolk, the High’s director, in a statement. “They demonstrate the incredible talents of Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley, two artists the Museum holds in high esteem, and serve as important records of a historic period in our nation’s history.”
When unveiled three years ago, the portraits caused something of a stir in that they were not reminiscent of the somewhat traditionally composed paintings of prior presidents and first ladies. The Obamas chose each artist for their history of portraying Black people in dynamic, knowing and sometimes mythical ways.
Wiley painted the 44th president seated, without a tie, surrounded and nearly engulfed by a verdant wall of green leaves and colorful blossoms. Wiley has said each flower relates to Obama’s life trajectory, from the jasmine of his birth state of Hawaii, to the chrysanthemums which are the official flower of Chicago, to the African blue lilies, which reference the former president’s Kenyan father.
The High has one other painting by Wiley in its permanent collection.
Michelle Obama chose Sherald for the very particular way she renders everyday Black people. Sherald’s subjects tend to look directly at viewers, challenging them to meet the subject’s gaze and to consider their humanity. Skin tones tend to be grayed out rather than richly pigmented in shades of brown from honey to ebony.
In her portrait, Michelle Obama was seated as well, but her legs appeared crossed beneath a voluminous white gown patterned intermittently like a quilt with geometric shapes. The first lady crosses her arms against the tops of her thighs. Her right arm is raised so that her chin rests against the back of her hand, a gesture that suggests ease and confidence.
Both portraits of the Obamas caused a surge in attendance at the National Portrait Gallery when they went on display in 2018. That year attendance was 2.3 million visits, up from 1.2 million visits the previous year. But it was the portrait of Michelle Obama which created an iconic moment, when then 2-year-old Parker Curry stood transfixed before the painting. Her mother’s picture capturing Parker’s awestruck expression went viral.
“We view the country as our community and believe in the power of portraiture to encourage both empathy and inspiration across audiences,” said Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery in a statement. “‘The Obama Portraits Tour’ is an opportunity to meet people where they are, in collaboration with our peer institutions, and offer audiences in different parts of the United States an opportunity to see these portraits firsthand.”
“The Obama Portraits Tour”
Jan. 14, 2022 - March 20, 2022
The High Museum of Art, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta, high.org
Tickets will be $8.25 each for the High’s members and $16.50 each for Museum Pass holders and the general public (ages 6 and over).* Admission is free for ages 5 and under, but reservations are required. The ticket includes access to the entire Museum.
Tickets, however, will be for specific time slots only. Advance tickets must be purchased through the High’s website. A limited number of 100 tickets will be available each day that the Museum is open for walk-up admission. There are no refunds or exchanges for exhibition tickets, and tickets are nontransferable.
To be eligible to purchase a member ticket, guests must sign up as a Member by Oct. 1, 2021. To be eligible for a Museum Pass ticket, guests must sign up as a Museum Pass holder by Oct. 8, 2021.