On 20 March, Amy Sherald, one of America’s defining contemporary portraitists, will unveil new paintings in her first West Coast solo exhibition. On view at Hauser & Wirth’s Downtown Arts District complex in Los Angeles, ‘The Great American Fact’ presents five works produced in 2020 that extend the artist’s technical innovations and distinctive visual language. Sherald is acclaimed for paintings of Black Americans at leisure that achieve the authority of landmarks in the grand tradition of social portraiture – a tradition that for too long excluded the Black men, women, and families whose lives have been inextricable from the narrative of the American experience. Subverting the genre of portraiture and challenging accepted notions of American identity, Sherald attempts to restore a broader, fuller picture of humanity. She positions her subjects as ‘symbolic tools that shift perceptions of who we are as Americans, while transforming the walls of museum galleries and the canon of art history – American art history, to be more specific.’
Sherald routinely draws upon literary references in her exhibition and the titles for her paintings. With ‘The Great American Fact’ she is referencing an 1892 book by educator Anna Julia Cooper, who wrote that Black people are ‘‘the great American fact’; the one objective reality on which scholars sharpened their wits, and at which orators and statesmen fired their eloquence.’ Sherald here employs Cooper’s statement as a framework for considering ‘public Blackness’ – the way Black American identity is shaped in the public realm. Her paintings celebrate the Black body at leisure, thereby revealing her subjects’ whole humanity. Sherald’s work thus foregrounds the idea that Black life and identity are not solely tethered to grappling publicly with social issues, and that resistance lies equally in a full interior life and an expansive vision of selfhood in the world.
‘The Great American Fact’ will be on view through 6 June 2021.
Born in 1973 in Columbus, GA, and now based in Baltimore MD, Amy Sherald documents contemporary African-American experience in the United States through arresting, otherworldly portraits. Sherald subverts the medium of portraiture to tease out unexpected narratives, inviting viewers to engage in a more complex debate about accepted notions of race and representation, and to situate black heritage centrally in the story of American art.
The 39th Cold War Spaces lunchtime talk with Eugene Yelchin, award-winning Russian-American children’s book author, painter, and illustrator, and Joes Segal, the Wende Museum's Chief Curator and Director of Programming.
Zoom Webier Hosted by The Wende Museum