Amy Sherald, one of America’s defining contemporary portraitists presents “The Great American Fact”, her first West Coast solo exhibition at Hauser & Wirth’s Downtown Los Angeles Arts District complex. The exhibition is on view through June 6th and we encourage you to go see it as soon as possible. The exhibit expands Sherald’s effort to, as the artist states, “paint the things I wish to see” by depicting Black Americans in scenes of leisure and centered in stillness.
Through her distinctive use of portraiture and by challenging accepted notions of American identity, Sherald attempts to restore a broader, fuller picture of humanity.
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.
“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.
In a pose evocative of James Dean, the man in this painting directs his gaze at the viewer while leaning confidently against a retro convertible. Beside him, a woman wearing oversized sunglasses and a pink T-shirt emblazoned with the Barbie logo, grasps a plastic cup in the shape of a flamingo.
“An Ocean Away” (2020) depicts two figures together. Set in the dunes of a beach, this painting presents a young boy wearing a surfer’s wetsuit and regarding the viewer directly. The adult man beside him casts his eyes toward the horizon from the spot where they stand.
The exhibition also includes portraits of single subjects. “A Midsummer Afternoon Dream” (2020) 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.
Date: 20 Mar – 6 Jun 2021