Since March 2018, when Houser & Wirth announced exclusive worldwide representation of American artist Amy Sherald, four major exhibitions took place: in New York, Los Angeles, last year in London – her first solo show in Europe and from the end of January this year a selection of new and monumental works by Amy Sherald is brought to Monaco.
The title of the exhibition, ‘The World We Make,’ is a meditation on, as Sherald says, the fact that ‘as we walk beyond what we have been living through, we have a world to remake,’ a message that at once contains hope, while suggesting there is work to be done. As one of the defining contemporary portraitists in the United States, Sherald is acclaimed for her paintings of Black Americans that have become landmarks in the grand tradition of social portraiture – a tradition that for too long excluded the Black men, women, families and artists whose lives have been inextricable from public and politicised narratives.
As Sherald says, “sharing these paintings in Europe is an opportunity for me to reflect on how the tradition of portraiture finds continuity as one of several lineages alive in my work.” Sherald humanises the Black experience by depicting her subjects in both historically recognisable and everyday settings, at once immortalising them and reinserting them into the art historical canon, the organisers say.
Sherald’s portraits are large in scale (life-sized or larger) but intimate in effect, capturing the ordinary likeness and extraordinary essence of all her subjects while simultaneously detaching them from everyday reality with their bold block colour backgrounds. Despite varying contexts, clothing, expression and positions, the individuals portrayed maintain a persistent sense of privacy and mystery reflecting Sherald’s desire to draw the viewer’s attention to the interior lives, hopes and dreams of her subjects.
Sherald focusses on the idea that Black life and identity are not solely tethered to grappling publicly with social issues and that resistance also lies in an expressive vision of self-sovereignty in the world. While her subjects are always African-American, Sherald continues to render their skin-tone exclusively in greyscale – an absence of colour that directly challenges perceptions of Black identity, according to Hauser & Wirth.
Sherald , 49, 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 DC. In February 2018, the museum unveiled her portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Amy Sherald has recently invested $1 million to the University of Louisville to fund the Brandeis Law School’s Breonna Taylor Legacy Fellowship and the Breonna Taylor Legacy Scholarship for undergraduates, a gift made possible by the sale of Sherald’s portrait of Breonna Taylor made in 2020 to the Ford Foundation and the Hearthland Foundation. This donation will allow the trust to run this scholarship programme indefinitely.
The World We Make by Amy Sherald is on display at Hauser & Wirth Monaco until April 15. This exhibition is not to be missed.
Photo: For love and for country, 2022 by Amy Sherald (detail) Credit: the artist/Hauser & Wirth