Following its debut at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 2021, the group exhibition Black American Portraits travels to Atlanta’s Spelman College Museum of Fine Art. Co-curated by Spelman College Museum of Fine Art’s Executive Director Liz Andrews and Tate’s Britton Family Curator-at-Large Christine Y. Kim (both formerly of LACMA), the exhibition reframes portraiture to center Black American subjects, sitters and spaces – this time placing Black women portrait artists center stage.
New to the exhibition at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art will be four acquisitions: a new painting by Calida Rawles – who will celebrate her 25th anniversary as a Spelman College alumna in 2023, two works by Augusta Savage, and a photograph of Spelman Alumna Stacey Abrams by Sheila Pree Bright.
Spanning over two centuries from c. 1800 to the present day, the exhibition will feature 120 works to chronicle the ways in which Black Americans have used portraiture to envision themselves in their own eyes. Countering a visual culture that often demonizes Blackness and fetishizes the spectacle of Black pain, these images center love, abundance, family, community and exuberance. Black American Portraits depicts Black figures in a range of mediums such as painting, drawing, prints, photography, sculpture, mixed media and time-based media. In addition to work by artists of African descent, Black American Portraits includes several works by artists of other backgrounds who have exemplified a thoughtfulness about, sensitivity toward and commitment to Black artists, communities, histories and subjects.
The opening Black American Portraits at Spelman will coincide with the release of a book by the same title from LACMA and Delmonico books. Spanning over two centuries from around 1800 to the present day, the Black American Portraits book chronicles the ways in which Black Americans have used portraiture to envision themselves in their own eyes. Remembering Two Centuries of Black American Art, curated by David C. Driskell at LACMA over 45 years ago, this book is a companion to the exhibition and reframes portraiture to center Black American subjects, sitters and spaces. This selection of approximately 140 works from LACMA’s permanent collection highlights emancipation, scenes from the Harlem Renaissance, portraits from the Civil Rights and Black Power eras, multiculturalism of the 1990s and the spirit of Black Lives Matter. The book is edited with text by Christine Y. Kim and Myrtle Elizabeth (Liz) Andrews, forewords by Mary Schmidt Campbell and Michael Govan, texts by Hilton Als, Bridget R. Cooks, Ilene Susan Fort, Dhyandra Lawson, Jeffrey C. Stewart, and an afterword by Naima J. Keith. The publication was designed by Adraint Khadafhi Bereal.
The Spelman Museum presentation of Black American Portraits will include a slate of public programs including Black American Portraits: A Symposium on March 2-3, 2023. Speakers at the symposium include Amy Sherald, Calida Rawles, Bisa Butler and Deborah Willis.