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The Obama Portraits

By Anna Ruby

Photo by Avani Mitra

There is a certain stillness found throughout the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). But that cannot be said for Gallery 184.

The space, most recently dedicated to showcasing The Obama Portraits Tour, fills with new faces every thirty minutes. While some gaze intimately at the latest, and arguably the most groundbreaking, presidential portraits, others focus on reading the information about the artists who painted them; the stories behind their creation, and Boston’s personal touch to the exhibit. However, underlying it all is the sound of conversation, provoked by the portraits themselves, and the shared interest that comes with purchasing a ticket to see them.

The Obama Portraits exhibit has made its final stop of a seven-city tour, in Boston. After arriving on Sep. 3, the museum completed its first rebrand in 30 years, bringing both Boston residents and visitors through its doors.

A member of the MFA team mentioned how the exhibit has attracted a diverse audience, which is evident upon entering. There are children who have grown up hearing the name “Obama” in their kitchens, alongside those who have seen years worth of presidential portraits in their lifetimes. Within the thirty-minute time slot, visitors can pause to comment on the gray-scape chosen for Michelle’s complexion, or ponder on the meaning of Barack’s seemingly “floating chair.”

The MFA has added a portion to the exhibit called “Portraits of Leadership,” an initiative that involved over 2,600 members from the city. It started the Curatorial Study Hall—an internship program for rising junior and senior high school students, giving museum career experiences—asked Boston residents to create portraits in response to the Obama portraits. The prompt was an attempt to answer the question of what residents believe leadership looks like through their artwork. Digital submissions are available online, while the remainder of the portraits can be seen with the purchase of a ticket to the ObamaPortraits exhibit.

Before the portraits return to D.C. in early November, the exhibit can be viewed at the MFA until Oct 30. Patrons can purchase a general admission ticket, which includes the exhibit online: adults pay $27, youths (7 to 17) pay $10, while children six and under, museum members, and university student members can attend for free. Other work by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, the portraits’ artists, can be found in the Art of the Americas exhibit, Gallery 232.


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