It’s an exciting weekend at the museum! In addition to being the final chance to view The Beyond: Georgia O’Keeffe and Contemporary Art—on view through Monday, September 3—two free, focus exhibitions are opening today, September 1.
Artist Amy Sherald gained public attention in early 2018 when her portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama was revealed at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. This free, focus exhibition will feature a selection of paintings by Baltimore-based Sherald, who creates portraits of everyday African Americans she meets during the course of her day: on the street, in the grocery store, on the bus. Sherald is able to capture the essence of her subjects while depicting them in a vibrant, and sometimes fantastical, style.
Amy Sherald will be here September 7 for a free Spotlight Talk celebrating the opening of the exhibition. Tickets are going fast, get yours before they’re gone!
In this free, focus exhibition that complements the temporary exhibition Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now, contemporary photographer Will Wilson (Diné) presents an authentic, twenty-first century depiction of Indigenous culture through his photography, even allowing his subjects to choose the pose, clothing, props, and context of each photograph. This exhibition will also feature photographs from Edward Curtis, who traveled throughout the western United States between 1907 and 1930 to photograph traditions and cultures of Native American peoples. The photographs of Wilson and Curtis in conversation offer a chance to see different depictions of Native peoples and to think critically about how they have been portrayed in photography over the past century.
The exhibition features talking tintypes, which can be activated by downloading the Layar App to your smartphone. Instructions for downloading the Layar app are located inside the gallery when you visit.
It is interesting to note that both exhibitions, which open on the same day, feature portraits of modern day Americans. Amy Sherald paints portraits of African Americans she meets in her everyday life in Baltimore, while Will Wilson photographs Native Americans living today. While both exhibitions will allow visitors to step inside the shoes of another person, the process by which Sherald presents her models is different than Wilson’s method.Amy Sherald chooses her subjects based on an “a-ha” moment. She sees something in them that she has to draw out of them and paint. However, the way her subjects are portrayed is completely based on what the artists sees. Sherald decides what props will be featured in each portrait and in many cases, she even selected their outfits for them. She first photographs them outside in natural light, then draws them on a vibrant, colorful canvas, taking them out of time and place. Furthermore, their skin is rendered in gray tones to, as the artist says, “remove color from race,” shifting the viewer’s focus toward the humanity and individuality of each figure.
Will Wilson, on the other hand, allows his models to choose everything in their photographs, from the clothing to the props, hairstyles, pose, and tone of the photograph. Each model gets to keep a copy of their photograph afterwards as a thank you from the artist. In this way, Native Americans are portrayed to reflect who they really are, as opposed to reflecting ethnic stereotypes. Over a century ago, Edward Curtis (the other photographer in the In Conversation exhibition), was commissioned to document Native Americans through photography. Notice the ways in which these people were photographed as opposed to Wilson’s pictures. Consider the differences in how people of Native American heritage have been photographed over time.
As you make your way through both exhibitions (In Conversation: Will Wilson and Edward Curtis in Gallery 2 and Amy Sherald in Gallery 6), consider these different creation methods between the two artists. How does the artist’s process make you feel about the artwork? What do you think each subject would want you to know about them based on their portrait?
The museum is open regular hours this weekend and Labor Day! Spend the long weekend with Crystal Bridges visiting The Beyond and these exciting new focus exhibitions.