Art & Culture

Coming Soon: SFMOMA Will Present Largest-Ever Exhibition of Amy Sherald, Artist Known for Poetic Portraits



AMY SHERALD, “For love, and for country,” 2022 (oil on linen, 313 x 236.5 x 6.4 cm / 123 1/4 x 93 1/8 x 2 1/2 inches). | San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; © Amy Sherald; photo: Joseph Hyde, courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

 

THE FIRST MID-CAREER SURVEY of Amy Sherald (b. 1973) is opening at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in November. Sherald paints poetic and engaging portraits, most often of ordinary people. Her work is distinguished by the gray tones she uses to render the skin of her subjects and the attention she pays to their clothing. Six years ago, she became widely known for her portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama, commissioned by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

“Amy Sherald: American Sublime” is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of her work to date. More than 50 paintings will be on view, spanning 2007 to the present. Early, rarely seen works will be featured along with new portraits created specifically for the exhibition and shown publicly for the first time.

The selections include Sherald’s most iconic paintings: Her portrait of Mrs. Obama, which has toured the nation with Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Barack Obama; a posthumous tribute to Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency room technician killed by police in her Louisville, Ky., home at the start of the pandemic; and “For love, and for country” (2022).

The latter reimagines Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous 1945 photograph of a U.S. Navy sailor kissing a woman in Times Square on “V-J Day,” marking the end of World War II. Sherald’s contemporary version replaces the white heterosexual couple with two Black men, making a powerful statement about love, evolving social norms, queer rights, and freedom and safety in public spaces. The monumental painting stands more than 10-feet tall and was recently acquired by SFMOMA.

The exhibition is co-organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, where the show will travel in April 2025.

“By creating images of Black men, women and children at ease, with few markers of place, time or context beyond the clothes they wear, Sherald has invented an entirely new form of figurative painting. Her approach goes beyond portraiture to enact new conditions for seeing, feeling, and understanding shared humanity,” Sarah Roberts, SFMOMA curator and head of Painting and Sculpture, said in a statement.

“In the spirit of great American artists like Edward Hopper, Alice Neel and Kerry James Marshall, Sherald’s works reframe our understanding of American culture. Her paintings invite viewers to recognize and move beyond preconceived ideas and engage in more expansive thinking about race, representation and the wide-open possibilities and complexities of every individual.”

“By creating images of Black men, women and children at ease, with few markers of place, time or context beyond the clothes they wear, Sherald has invented an entirely new form of figurative painting. Her approach goes beyond portraiture to enact new conditions for seeing, feeling, and understanding shared humanity.” — SFMOMA Curator Sarah Roberts

BORN IN COLUMBUS, GA., Sherald lives and works in New York. She was based in Baltimore, Md., when she developed her practice, spotting her subjects on the street, photographing them, selecting the brightly colored clothing she depicted them in, sometimes pairing it with quirky accessories, and finally painting their portraits based on the reference photos. Her grayscale figure paintings emphasize the individuality of her subjects and seek to dispel preconceived notions of Blackness.

The trajectory of Sherald’s career changed when her portrait “Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance)” (2014) won the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition in 2016. She was the first woman and first African American to take first place in the competition. The recognition landed her among a select group of artists Obama considered for her official portrait. In 2018, Sherald received the David C. Driskell Prize, a prestigious honor presented by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Ga., that “recognizes field-defining contributions to African American art.”

More than a decade ago, Sherald’s first institutional exhibitions were presented by Black museums. “The Magical Real-ism of Amy Sherald” (2011) was on view at The Robert and Sallie Brown Gallery and Museum in The Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In 2013, “Amy Sherald: Paintings” was featured at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture. More recently, “Amy Sherald,” a small survey of seven paintings organized by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in 2018 was promoted as her first major solo museum exhibition. The show went on to travel to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., and the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta, through 2019.

Sherald is represented by Hauser & Wirth, one of the top galleries in the world, where “For love, and for country” debuted in her first international exhibition. “Amy Sherald: The World We Make” was presented at the gallery’s London location in 2022, and in Monaco (2023).

“Amy Sherald is one of the most important artists working today and we are honored to present her first mid-career survey at SFMOMA,” SFMOMA Director Christopher Bedford said in a statement “Sherald’s vision deeply resonates with the museum’s goals to share and to champion a more expansive art history in our galleries. Her unique and exquisite renderings of her subjects encourage close looking, curiosity, and awe. We greatly look forward to sharing this important exhibition with our community.” CT

 

IMAGE: Above left, Amy Sherald. | Photo by JJ Geiger, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

 

“Amy Sherald: American Sublime” is on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, from Nov. 16, 2024-March 9, 2025, and travels to the Whitney Museum of American Art (April 9-August 3, 2025)

 

FIND MORE about Amy Sherald on Instagram

 


AMY SHERALD, Breonna Taylor, 2020 (oil on linen, 54 × 43 × 2 1/2 inches / 137.2 × 109.2 × 6.4 cm). | Private collection. © Amy Sherald. Photo by Joseph Hyde, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

 


AMY SHERALD, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, 2018 (oil on linen, 183.2 × 152.7 × 7 cm / 72 1/8 × 60 1/8 × 2 3/4 inches). | National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. © National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Photo by Joseph Hyde, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

 

BOOKSHELF
A new exhibition catalog will be published to accompany “Amy Sherald: American Sublime.” The fully illustrated volume is the first comprehensive monograph of the artist and will include contributions by Sarah Roberts, Rujeko Hockley, Elizabeth Alexander, Dario Calmese, and Rhea Combs. “Amy Sherald: The World We Make” was published on the occasion Amy Sherald’s first international exhibition at Hauser & Wirth gallery in London. A detail of her monumental painting “For love, and for country” (2022) graces the cover of the book, which includes a conversation between Sherald and Ta-Nehisi Coates. “Amy Sherald” documents her 2018-19 exhibition organized by the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis. Sherald’s portrait of Breonna Taylor was featured in “Promise, Witness, Remembrance” at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Ky., and covers the exhibition catalog. Also consider, “The Obama Portraits” and, for children, “Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment.”

 

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