The Obama Portraits Make LACMA Debut

A bright white wall at LACMA came to life with the appearance of “The Obama Portraits” in their West Coast debut, the third of a five-city tour that began in Chicago, stopping in Brooklyn. , and will continue to Atlanta and Houston in 2022.

These official portraits – depicting the 44th president and first lady, by artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald respectively – will be on display through January 2 and be contextualized by a meeting. The broader companion exhibition, “Portrait of Black Americans,” envelops them like an interlocking doll, is dedicated to how portraiture has been used as a tool of power and self-determination in throughout American history. Sherald said: “It was an exciting moment in the long journey of these paintings when the work was in dialogue with so many artists who came before us and made this experience a reality. CHEAP.

Beginning April 17 and co-curated by Liz Andrews, executive director of the Spelman University Museum of Fine Arts, and Christine Y. Kim of LACMA, “Portrait of Black Americans” highlights subjects black Americans in a country where mainstream art has long catapulted them into spaces defined by dominant gazes — or ignored them altogether.

“I don’t think the United States can elect a black man to the presidency without seeing the multigenerational image of black people created by themselves,” Andrews said. The exhibition begins with LA-based photographer Catherine Opie’s images documenting Barack Obama’s inauguration and the impact of that historic moment.

Portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama, both more than six feet tall, are carefully installed on one wall of the gallery to the north.

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“We did it to evoke the idea and history of the North Star,” says Andrews. “Of course, the North Star is not the biggest or brightest star in the sky, but it is a star in the sky that does not move.” The curator’s choice of configuration became a symbolic embodiment of the hope and advancement of some Americans associated with President Obama’s ascension to the throne. Andrews added: “Think about constantly looking at the award, keeping an eye on the freedom and impact of placing Obama in historical context.”

It also makes sense for Obama’s portrait to come to LACMA: Wiley was raised in LA But, as the artist recalls at the painting’s premiere in 2018, he grew up going to museums without “” pictures on the walls of people who just happened to look like him,” Andrews said. “Part of the reason he became an artist was to correct that shortcoming.”

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Portrait of the Sailor in Black (Paul Cuffe?), United States, c. 1800, oil on canvas, 25 1/4 x 20 1/2 inch, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Cecile Bartman.
© Museum Associates / LACMA

A version of this story first appeared in the November 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to subscribe.

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