The widely popular portraits of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have arrived in Los Angeles at LACMA, the only west coast venue for the portraits on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. LACMA has planned a celebratory weekend for the opening, starting Sunday with additional programming. From the moment of their unveiling at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in February 2018, the museum’s official portraits of have become iconic. Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Obama and Amy Sherald’s portrait of the former First Lady have inspired unprecedented responses from the public.
To complement the presentation of The Obama Portraits, LACMA has mounted Black American Portraits, an exhibit of more than 140 works of art, in a variety of media, drawn primarily from LACMA’s permanent collection. In a presentation to the press earlier this week, co-curators Christine Y. Kim and Liz Andrews explained the exhibit is also a tribute to Two Centuries of Black American Art, a groundbreaking exhibition curated by artist and art historian David C. Driskell (1931–2020) that opened at LACMA in 1976.
Black American Portraits, which runs through April 17, 2022, spans more than two centuries, the exhibition includes nineteenth-century studio photography, portraits from the Harlem Renaissance, images from the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Black Lives Matter eras, pictures of Black celebrities and political figures, and artists’ self-portraits.
The earliest work in the show is a late-eighteenth-century portrait of a sailor, and the most recent images represent artists’ reflections on the tumultuous years 2020 and 2021.
According to the musuem, Black American Portraits centers joy, love, abundance, agency, subjectivity, and nuance, while challenging colonialist images and countering spectacles of Black pain. This selection of portraits and portrayals builds on traditions of Black self- representation, explores divergent practices and intersectional perspectives, and includes work by self-taught artists and non-Black artist allies.
In addition to the artworks themselves, the LACMA presentation of The Obama Portraits Tour will feature teacher workshops, curatorial tours, and a richly illustrated book. There are also special events planned for the opening weekend and during the run of both exhibitions.
This is going to be one of these exhibits that you will want to say you were able to see it when it was here!
COVID-19 protocols will be enforced. LACMA is controlling crowds with timed entry and a virtual waiting line for the exhibit to make sure to avoid overcrowding. Check the website for further information.