Obama Portraits Put on Giant Display on Chicago's Merchandise Mart Ahead of Art Institute Debut and Tour

The official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama are now on display at the Art Institute of Chicago

Portraits Of Barack And Michelle Obama Projected Onto Chicago's Merchandise Mart
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty

Digital versions of the official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama were projected on to Chicago's Merchandise Mart building this week, to coincide with the debut of the paintings at the city's famed Art Institute on Friday.

The animated projections of the two paintings - the former president's created by Kehinde Wiley and the former first lady's by Amy Sherald - will light up the building every night through Sept. 16 from 9 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., with a musical score accompanying the works.

The paintings will remain on display at the Art Institute of Chicago until Aug. 15, before moving on to the Brooklyn Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Atlanta's High Museum and then Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

The tour is expected to last until May 2022.

Portraits Of Barack And Michelle Obama Projected Onto Chicago's Merchandise Mart
Portraits Of Barack And Michelle Obama projected onto Chicago's Merchandise Mart. Scott Olson/Getty

Wiley's portrait of President Obama, 59, is grand in scale - life-sized, but with a sense of approachability, as it depicts him leaning forward, and with gray hair.

Sherald's portrait of Mrs. Obama, meanwhile, is similarly iconic, though "her pose and eye contact is represented as someone who is very open, accessible and inclusive," Art Institute Director of Interpretation Emily Fry recently told PEOPLE.

The tour, organized by the National Portrait Gallery, marks the first time the portraits have traveled outside of Washington, D.C., and will be the first time the two works have been exhibited in the same space together, since they were in different areas of the portrait gallery.

The Chicago installation will allow visitors to view the paintings side-by-side, along with a map of key moments and locations that had impacts on the Obamas' lives.

Portraits Of Barack And Michelle Obama Projected Onto Chicago's Merchandise Mart
Scott Olson/Getty

Chicago is a significant backdrop for the paintings, as it has served as an important location in the couple's personal and professional lives.

The Art Institute was the site of the Obamas' first date and "the site where they started their relationship," Fry told PEOPLE in an earlier interview.

"It was particularly exciting that Chicago was chosen to be the very first stop and it's something that we really want to honor, because the Obamas and Chicago are inextricably linked," Fry said. "This is the location that has shaped the arc of their professional lives, and it's where they started their family. It's a homecoming."

RELATED VIDEO: Michelle Obama Hilariously Attempt to Get Jimmy Kimmel's Daughter Jane, 6, to Eat Vegetables

The couple met while working at the Chicago law firm Sidley Austin (at the time, the future president was working as a summer associate; his future wife was his adviser).

Their first date - which took place in 1989 and was the subject of the 2016 film Southside with You - was lengthy, spanning an entire day.

After visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, the two had lunch in the museum's courtyard, enjoyed a drink on the 99th floor of the John Hancock building, saw Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and took a long walk down Michigan Avenue.

"He showed all the sides," Mrs. Obama, 57, told CNN in a 2008 interview. "He was hip. Cultural. Sensitive. The fountain, nice touch. The walk, sensitive."

Related Articles