We live in a culture that is shaped by social media. We play with identity through technology, which both connects us and isolates us. It is no wonder the genre of portraiture is experiencing renewed significance and thriving in the contemporary art world. As a genre, portraiture is akin to the raw, direct nature of a journal entry, often revealing aspects of the sitter’s identity that are messy or complicated or even artfully concealing the truth. It is the most personal—and certainly the most psychological—of art forms. As a viewer, we step into the relationship between the artist and the subject. Whether an artist is creating a visual autobiography, delving deeper into a relationship, or getting to know someone, the resulting portrait shows us a private world.
Every three years, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery invites artists to participate in the most prestigious portrait contest in the country: the juried Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. In 2016, its fourth iteration, jurors selected 43 winning works from more than 2,500 entries. The resulting exhibition has become a pivotal marker because, for the first time ever, the Portrait Gallery has sent it on tour. The Ackland Art Museum is honored to host The Outwin: American Portraiture Today and will be the exhibition’s final venue.
The first-prize winner of the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, Amy Sherald has gained significant prominence recently as the official portraitist of First Lady Michelle Obama. The Outwin marks Sherald’s return to UNC-Chapel Hill; she had her first solo exhibition in 2011 at UNC’s Sonya Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History.
This exhibition has been organized by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. The competition and exhibition have been made possible by generous support from the Virginia Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition Endowment.
Amy Sherald, American, born 1973: Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance); oil on canvas, 54 x 43-1/8 in., 2013. Frances and Burton Reifler © Amy Sherald.