MARCH 20 - JUNE 6, 2021
BY: HAUSER & WIRTH
Amy Sherald, one of America’s defining contemporary portraitists, unveils new paintings in her first West Coast solo exhibition at Hauser & Wirth in 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.
Amy 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.
© Amy Sherald
The exhibition includes portraits of single subjects such as ‘A Midsummer Afternoon Dream’ (2020) which centers a woman resting on a bicycle in front of a white picket fence and a plot of sunflowers. By contrast, other single subjects in the exhibition are surrounded by monochrome swaths of vibrant color. Among these are ‘A bucket full of treasures (Papa gave me sunshine to put in my pockets…)’ (2020), depicting a man in a zippered pullover emblazoned with its own printed micro-scene, conjuring the memory of a recent beach vacation with its shining sun and lobster tucked within the pocket.
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 essay by educator Anna Julia Haywood 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 Haywood Cooper’s statement as a framework for considering ‘public Blackness’ – the way Black American identity is shaped in the public realm.
© Amy Sherald
Employing techniques long central to the art of portraiture, Sherald underscores the identity of her subjects through visual cues and objects familiar from contemporary Americana—the Barbie logo, fashion denim, surfboards, a picket fence, a convertible—to reinforce their inseparable connection to the nation’s historical and cultural fabric, and to reconstruct conceived notions and reinforce the multiplicities of Black American life.
Three works in the exhibition build upon her technical advancements through the use of monumental scale, figure groupings, and iconographic imagery to hint at unseen narratives. ‘As American as apple pie’ (2020) depicts a couple standing in front of a yellow house in a composition that conjures Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’ (1930). But instead of a pitchfork, a cameo, and a wary expression, Sherald’s couple is depicted with the accoutrement of contemporary pleasure.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Born in 1973 in Columbus, GA, Amy Sherald documents contemporary African-American experience in the United States through arresting, otherworldly portraits. Sherald was the first woman and first African-American ever to receive first prize in the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C.; in February 2018, the museum unveiled her portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama. In August 2020, Sherald was commissioned to create a portrait of Breonna Taylor for the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.
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