This time last year, Amy Sherald was unknown to much of the art world. Now, after the recent unveiling of her portrait of Michelle Obama, Sherald has gained enough notoriety to garner the attention of the mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth, which will represent Sherald around the world. Monique Meloche Gallery in Chicago, which has represented Sherald for the past few years, will continue to work with the artist.
Sherald has become one of the most closely watched figurative painters working today. Her portraits often feature black Americans, their skin rendered in greyish tones and their bodies placed against vibrantly colored backgrounds. Often, Sherald’s subjects—who, with the exception of Michelle Obama, are usually based on people she meets on the street—hold props that illuminate their personalities.
Sherald’s portrait of Obama, revealed last month at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., has been the subject of debate, with some critics arguing that the portrait doesn’t resemble the former First Lady at all and others arguing that Sherald’s point was to question the way black women have been represented throughout art history. In the painting, Obama appears posed against a cool blue background, wearing a flowing white dress designed by Michelle Smith’s label, Milly.
Marc Payot, a partner and vice president of Hauser & Wirth, told ARTnews, “I was invited to [Sherald’s] studio last year and was blown away by what I saw on that first visit—an art completely unique in its expression, within a genre that could not be more classical. Her paintings are very personal and yet universal at the same time,” and they have an “incredible strength that I can’t really contain in words.”
He continued, “I have never seen portraits painted like this. I believe the singularity of Amy’s approach is in itself a major achievement.”
Sherald’s first show with Hauser & Wirth is slated for 2019 in New York. (It will not be her first solo exhibition in New York, however—that happened last year, when a pop-up location of Monique Meloche Gallery in the Lower East Side featured new and recent work by the artist.)
In May, Sherald will have her first-ever solo museum exhibition, at the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis. Recently, the artist was added to the board of her hometown’s Baltimore Museum of Art, and was named the winner of the High Museum of Art’s $25,000 David C. Driskell Prize, which recognizes a person who has made a contribution to the conversation about black artists.
Correction, 3/20/18, 1:30 p.m.: This article previously misstated details about Sherald’s relationship with Monique Meloche Gallery. She will continue to work with the Chicago gallery.