LACMA’s new exhibit “The Obama Portraits Tour” features the official portraits of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, respectively. They hang alone on a white wall in the Resnick Pavilion. But not just any wall.
“When you’re the viewer looking at the portraits, you’re looking north,” Liz Andrews, who co-curated the exhibit with Christine Y. Kim, tells Variety. “I wanted to conjure the idea of the North Star. It’s not the brightest, it’s not the biggest, but it’s the star that guides us. So many people who emancipated themselves, who escaped slavery, used the North Star as a way to look for their freedom. So I think the only way we get to a place where we can have a presidential portrait of a Black man is by always keeping your eyes on that North Star.”
At the same time, the museum is presenting “Black American Portraits,” an exhibit (also co-curated by Andrews and Kim) of 140 works, ranging from a late 18th-century painting of a Black sailor to contemporary video pieces and mixed-media sculptures. “It’s the perfect moment in time for this. It really is,” Andrews says. “We really wanted to make sure that people walk away from the Obama portraits with a strong history of the way images have always affected the way that we think about Black people and about people in general.”
The exhibits launched on Saturday with the museum’s annual Art + Film Gala. Wiley and Sherald were honored as was Steven Spielberg.