‘The Obama Portraits Tour,’ ‘Black American Portraits’ at LACMA spotlight queer Black artists, subjects

The Obama Portraits Tour” and “Black American Portraits” exhibits at LACMA not only celebrate portraiture, but also queer Black artists and subjects.

In the West Coast presentation of “The Obama Portraits Tour,” Kehinde Wiley’s Barack Obama and Amy Sherald’s Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama are on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, and on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through Jan. 2.

Wiley, who identifies as gay, was the first Black artist to paint an official presidential portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery when Obama selected him in 2018.

Wiley’s “Portrait of a Young Man,” his eagerly anticipated reimagining of Gainsborough’s iconic 1770 painting “The Blue Boy,” is on display at The Huntington. Wiley’s work, which takes the name that Thomas Gainsborough initially used, incorporates the Grand Manner portraiture technique and style, but in a contemporary setting.

Kehinde Wiley’s ‘Portrait of a Young Gentleman’ on view at The Huntington

“The Portrait Gallery’s official portraits of President Barack Obama by Kehinde Wiley and First Lady Michelle Obama by Amy Sherald are powerful works of art,” Michael Govan, LACMA CEO, said in a statement. “The colors and styles of the paintings are a fresh departure from the history of presidential portraiture, and these have become two of the most recognized artworks in the world.”

To complement “The Obama Portraits Tour,” “Black American Portraitsis an exhibit that reframes portraiture to center Black American subjects, sitters, and spaces. It features 140 works mainly drawn from the museum’s permanent collection.

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“Black American Portraits” includes works that make visible LGBTQ sitters and stories with works by Tourmaline, Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Alvin Baltrop, Clifford Prince King, Lyle Ashton Harris, Renee Cox, Cathy Opie, and more.

It’s on view through April 7.

Black American Portraits Clifford Prince King

“Black American Portraits,” on view at LACMA, reframes portraiture to center Black American subjects, sitters, and spaces. It features 140 works mainly drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, and includes works that make visible LGBTQ sitters and stories. Photo: Clifford Prince King, “Safe Space,” 2020, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Graham Steele and Ulysses De Santi, © Clifford Prince King.

Both exhibits are located in the museum’s Resnick Pavilion.

“To complement the power and grace of Wiley and Sherald’s paintings, “Black American Portraits” centers Black love, abundance, family, exuberance, self possession, and self-expression over two centuries of African-American portraiture,” co-curators Christine Y. Kim and Liz Andrews said in the press materials. “Artists across time, geography, and diverse practices are represented in the exhibition, with attention to the work of many Los Angeles artists and figures.”

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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