Mother and daughter looking at a portrait of Obama
Visitors look at a breakdown of the different elements of Barack Obama's portrait at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta on Feb. 17, 2022. (Christian Gehrke/Fresh Take Georgia)

Crowds gathered excitedly around the portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama at the High Museum of Art. 

“I wanted to bring my daughter so she had the experience to see art that represents who she looks like,” said Atlanta resident Nakita Robinson, speaking of the first Black president and first lady. 

“It’s all about growing up and knowing that you’re not alone,” she added. 

The arrival of the portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama last month, painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively, mark a milestone for the museum. 

“This is the first presidential portrait from an official collection to be on view at the High,” said Marci Tate Davis, the High Museum’s manager of public relations.

A group of people viewing a portrait of Michelle Obama at the High Museum
A crowd gathers around Michelle Obama’s portrait at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta on Feb. 17, 2022. (Christian Gehrke/Fresh Take Georgia)

Concetta Duncan of the National Portrait Gallery, which houses the portraits and arranged the tour, said the High was chosen in part because of the artists’ connection to the region.

“We wanted to explore museums in different regions in order to share these portraits with diverse audiences across the country,” she said. “Amy Sherald is originally from Georgia, so Atlanta and the High Museum of Art made sense.” 

Arthur DiFuria, chair of art history at the Savannah College of Art and Design, said many of the objects and colors in the pieces have special significance.

“The flowers in Barack’s portrait appear to be important and have been described as biographical,” said DiFuria. “Chrysanthemums are the official flower of Chicago; jasmine is associated with Hawaii, and the blue lilies are African.”

A group of people viewing the process of making the Obama portraits at the High Museum
Visitors read about Amy Sherald’s work and career at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art on Feb. 17, 2022. (Christian Gehrke /Fresh Take Georgia)

The National Portraits Gallery houses portraits of individuals who have shaped the nation’s history and culture. The gallery began commissioning portraits of presidents in 1994, and first ladies in 2006. 

This stop of the portraits’ tour is one of many across the country. The paintings are scheduled to be displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago, the deYoung Museum in Los Angeles, California,  and the Brooklyn Museum in New York. The tour will conclude at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in late October. 

For many early visitors to the High this week, it was an opportunity to integrate history into an afternoon of leisure.

 “I wanted my children to learn a little bit about who the Obamas are,” said Erica Gordon of Atlanta, who brought her daughter to the exhibit.

The Obama portraits tour will remain at the High Museum through March 20. Tickets can be purchased online through the museum’s website. 

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