Arts and Culture

The Speed Art Museum’s upcoming show “Promise, Witness, Remembrance” will feature Amy Sherald’s iconic portrait of Breonna Taylor, originally created for a Vanity Fair cover last year.  

This will be the first time the painting is displayed publicly, according to a press release.

The exhibition, which runs April 7 to June 6, pays tribute to Taylor’s life and legacy, and reflects on the racial justice protests in Louisville following her death at the hands of police.

National and Louisville artists participating in the show include sculptors, photographers, painters, filmmakers, and conceptual and installation artists.

Guest curator Allison Glenn, of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., developed the show with the support of Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, as well as national and Louisville-based advisors.

“It cannot change what happened to Breonna Taylor… It cannot change the decisions made by the attorney general,” Glenn told WFPL last month. “What it can do is it can listen. And so early on in the process, I asked Miss Palmer… what it meant to her and her daughter’s legacy. And from that response, I crafted the idea of promise, witness and remembrance.” 

The exhibition will be laid out around those three words.

In the section entitled “Promise,” artists examine “ideologies of the United States of America through the symbols that uphold them, exploring the nation’s founding, history, and the promises and realities, both implicit and explicit, contained within them,” the release said.

It will include conceptual artist Glenn Ligon’s 2020 work “Aftermath” and Bethany Collins’ 2020 piece “The Star Spangled Banner: A Hymnal.”

In “Witness,” artists reflect on the present moment.

“This next section builds upon the gap between what a nation promises and provides through artworks that explore ideas of resistance across time, form and context,” according to the Speed.

Courtesy the artist/Speed

Sam Gilliam. (American, born 1933) Carousel Form II, 1969 Acrylic on canvas 120 x 900 in. Collection of the Speed Art Museum, Louisville, KY Gift of the artist 2013.6

In those galleries, there will be works from Sam Gilliam, an “afro-futurist manifesto for Black lives” by interdisciplinary artist Alisha Wormsley, a sculpture by multimedia artist Terry Adkins, and images from the protests in Louisville taken by local photographers Erik Branch, Xavier Burrell, Jon P. Cherry, Tyler Gerth and T.A. Yero

“Remembrance” is the exhibition’s culmination, featuring pieces that tackle gun violence and police brutality. It also highlights the victims of that violence and their legacies. Sherald’s portrait of Taylor will be displayed in this final section, as will works by sculptor and performance artist Nick Cave and contemporary painter Kerry James Marshall

“I made the portrait for Breonna Taylor’s family, first and foremost, and so it was important for this work to be seen first in this community, in Louisville,” Sherald said in the release. “I want to honor Breonna’s memory, and to provide some inspiration to the ongoing struggle for justice.”

A spokesperson confirmed to WFPL that the Speed is having discussions about a joint acquisition of the portrait with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C.

Courtesy Amy Sherald/Joseph Hyde

Amy Sherald (b. 1973) Breonna Taylor 2020 Oil on linen 137.2 x 109.2 cm / 54 x 43 inches © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Photo: Joseph Hyde

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that the museums would be able to purchase the piece with a $1 million donation by the Ford Foundation and a new foundation run by actress Kate Capshaw and director Steven Spielberg, her husband. 

Here’s the full list of artists participating in the Speed exhibit:

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.