This fall in New York, artist Amy Sherald, the artist tapped for First Lady Michelle Obama’s commanding, cool portrait for the National Archives, opens a show of new works at Hauser & Wirth, her first with the gallery. Titled ‘the heart of the matter…,’ the show debuts two paintings that reach a new, monumental scale for the artist, with monochromatic backgrounds that evolve into fully realized scenes referencing quintessential Americana, as well as a series of portraits that continue her iconic exploration of the contemporary black experience.
Drawing upon the American Realist tradition, Sherald’s work subverts the medium of portraiture to tease out unexpected narratives and situate black heritage centrally in the story of American art, using a style that underscores a deep resonance with the landscape of American contemporary painting, her inaugural exhibition with Hauser & Wirth continues a challenging and expressive engagement with the canvas, and its subject matter. Informed by the artist’s reading of key texts that explore tensions between interior and public realms, ‘the heart of the matter…’ draws its title from the first chapter of bell hooks’ seminal book ‘Salvation,’ and builds on themes of silence and stillness explored in Kevin Quashie’s ‘Sovereignty of Quiet’ as well as U.S. Poet Laureate Elizabeth Alexander’s ‘Black Interior.’ In her new paintings, Sherald considers how these relate to the conceptualization of blackness as it is represented publicly, questioning representation of black identity, which often negates the complex reality of an interior life. She envisions black American identity beyond the conceits to which it has largely been restricted, attempting to restore a broader, fuller picture of humanity.
Amy Sherald, Handsome (2019), via Hauser & Wirth
These vivid, large-scale portraits bring concepts of quietude and repose, power and expression to the fore through cool renderings of her figures, but turn their expressions into statements of deep emotion and potency. Color and form serve to push direct, expressive states, Sherald works from carefully composed and dramatically staged photographs, Sherald situates her subjects in brightly colored, ambiguous environments, then meticulously tweaks expressions and patterns to emphasize a sense of universality and connection. The result, in all of its studied, restrained composition, seems to radiate a powerful, deep energy.
The show closes October 26th.
— A. Evangelisti
Amy Sherald: The Heart of the Matter [Exhibition Site]