In these turbulent times, creativity and empathy are more necessary than ever to bridge divides and find solutions. Midnight Publishing Group News’s Art and Empathy Project is an ongoing investigation into how the art world can help enhance emotional intelligence, drawing insights and inspiration from creatives, thought leaders, and great works of art.
“Amy Sherald: The Great American Fact”
at Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles
through June 6
What the gallery says: “Amy Sherald is acclaimed for paintings of Black Americans at leisure that achieve the authority of landmarks in the grand tradition of social portraiture—a tradition that for too long excluded the Black men, women, and families whose lives have been inextricable from the narrative of the American experience.
Subverting the genre of portraiture and challenging accepted notions of American identity, Sherald attempts to restore a broader, fuller picture of humanity. She positions her subjects as ‘symbolic tools that shift perceptions of who we are as Americans, while transforming the walls of museum galleries and the canon of art history—American art history, to be more specific.’”
Why it’s worth a look: Sherald, who spent the past year making the five pictures in this show, is famously a slow-moving, intensely focused artist. Her reduced production allows her to carefully articulate the sorts of details that characterize her precise paintings: the soft smear of pink on the dog’s nose in A Midsummer Afternoon Dream (2020), the broken fencing along the dunes in An Ocean Away (2020). Her careful painterly fluency encourages appropriately patient, measured looking that is rare in the 21st century.
How it can be used as an empathy workout: The show draws its title from educator Anna Julia Cooper’s 1892 book The Great American Fact, in which she argues that Black Americans are “the one objective reality on which scholars sharpened their wits, and at which orators and statesmen fired their eloquence.” In Sherald’s works, the objective reality of “public Blackness,” as the show’s press release puts it, comes through in portraits of everyday people, living quiet yet proud lives. Perhaps more than anything, these figures invite an empathetic viewer, someone willing to approach the painting with kindness and humility.
“Her paintings,” as the gallery says, “celebrate the Black body at leisure, thereby revealing her subjects’ whole humanity. Sherald’s work thus foregrounds the idea that Black life and identity are not solely tethered to grappling publicly with social issues, and that resistance lies equally in a full interior life and an expansive vision of selfhood in the world.”
What it looks like:
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