The Birmingham Museum of Art unveiled a work by artist Amy Sherald, who was also commissioned to paint Michelle Obama’s official portrait for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in 2017. Amy Sherald’s work, All Things Bright and Beautiful, made its public debut at the Museum’s Art On The Rocks event on June 8.
The painting, owned by the same North Carolina couple who owns the Boochever-prize-winning portrait Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance), has been featured by The New York Times and CBS News in its coverage of Sherald’s life and work, and is considered among her most significant works. The owners of the painting chose the Birmingham Museum of Art to display the work, following their desire to share it with the public by placing it on loan to a Southern art museum.
“One of the top priorities of the Birmingham Museum of Art is to bring the joy of art to all of Birmingham’s citizens, and as such, we are committed to collecting and presenting art that better reflects the people who live here,” says Graham Boettcher, R. Hugh Daniel Director of the Birmingham Museum of Art. “Amy Sherald’s large, eye-catching portraits of African Americans help show a more complete picture of American lives, and we are proud to be the temporary custodian of this outstanding work of art.”
A native of Columbus, Georgia, painter Amy Sherald received her BA in painting from Clark Atlanta University in 1997, thereafter apprenticing with Arturo Lindsay, professor of art at Spelman College. Winner of the National Portrait Gallery’s prestigious Outwin Boochever Portraiture Competition (2015) and the High Museum of Art’s David C. Driskell Prize (2018).
Sherald was thrust into the national spotlight when she was commissioned to paint First Lady Michelle Obama’s official portrait for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Reflecting on seeing her portrait at the National Portrait Gallery, Michelle Obama said: “I’m also thinking about all the young people, particularly girls, and girls of color, who in years ahead will come to this place and they will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the wall of this great American institution. I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls.”
Of the painting All Things Bright and Beautiful, Naima Green wrote in The New York Times, “Ms. Sherald’s portraits typically feature a single black person who looks directly at the viewer. Her subjects are not positioned in remarkable poses. In one painting, a young girl stands with her arms dangling. In another, a girl blocks the sun from her eyes. . . Visualizations of blackness are almost always imbued with political meaning, but Ms. Sherald presents the interior lives of her figures without editorializing about them. Still, there is something confrontational about how Ms. Sherald’s subjects are almost always facing head-on, evaluating the viewer from the canvas. The paintings demand that the viewers see the humanity on display. The subjects are real people, and they see us looking at them. It is impossible to look away.”