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Famous Breonna Taylor portrait anchors new exhibit in Louisville

 The Breonna Taylor portrait by Amy Sherald is currently on view at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville. It hangs in the middle of a dark-colored wall with lighter spray painted art on each side. A sofa and arm chairs are in view in the foreground.
Debra Murray
The Breonna Taylor portrait by Amy Sherald is currently on view at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville.

Breonna Taylor’s portrait in blue by Amy Sherald is back at the Speed Art Museum. It’s the centerpiece of a new show focused on Black womanhood, social justice and the love of life itself.  

The famous image is the centerpiece of the Speed Art Museum’s newest exhibit, “In the Garden.”

Louisville Metro Police Department officers killed Taylor in the botched middle of the night raid on her apartment in March 2020.

Sherald’s painting of Breonna Taylor was originally commissioned for “Vanity Fair” in the September 2020 issue. In 2021, the Speed Art Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. jointly acquired the portrait.

Raphaela Platow, director of the Speed Art Museum, says “In the Garden” explores themes of loss, grief and injustice – but also hope.

“We settled on pretty much two larger themes, one is Black womanhood, or women-identifying subjects, and her love for flowers and butterflies and life itself,” Platow said. “And the other aspect was the continued exploration of how artists are, with their work, dealing with social justice issues.”

Surrounding the portrait is “Homecoming” a work in spray paint directly on the museum walls. It was created by Braylyn “Resko” Stewart and Sara Noori. The walls are covered in butterflies and floral imagery to compliment the portrait. This is also the first work that has altered the museum walls directly, Platow said. It was partially inspired by “Breonna’s Garden,” a virtual reality experience created by Ju’Niyah Palmer, Taylor’s younger sister.

This installation features artworks by contemporary artists including Anthony Akinbola, Firelei Báez, Andrea Bowers, María Magdalena Campos-Pons, vanessa german, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Ebony G. Patterson, Nari Ward, T.A. Yero, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.

“To pull off this exhibition, it was also really important to us that we include local based artists that have a relationship to the painting and of course, also to this terrible murder that happened in our community,” Platow said.

Platow encourages visitors to remember the meaning behind the portrait.

“It's a piece that is not a work of art that we owned, but it's a piece that is truly owned by the community and it's like a vessel for a lot of meaning,” Platow said. “We are always trying very hard to keep that in mind. And to involve the family and in conversations about how it should be displayed. I think that's important for people that this is a monument to a person who's no longer with us.”

Tyler Blackwell is the curator of contemporary art at the Speed. He said Taylor’s legacy looms large in the entire community.

“There is an added consideration for all of us as we think about what it means to bring something that has so much energy and power into the sort of museum sphere, a sphere that is also meant to be for the community,” Blackwell said.

This isn’t the first time Sherald’s portrait of Breonna Taylor was on view at the Speed. It was part of “Promise. Witness. Remembrance” in 2021. This exhibit aims to be less somber and hopes to honor Taylor’s life, Blackwell said.

“We want to create a homecoming for the work because it's the first time and it's been back on view since ‘Promise. Witness. Remembrance,’” Blackwell said. “I was keen to work with colleagues here and to work with Breonna's family, to think about what it meant to create an environment in which the portrait would essentially find a new home, find a new place where it can be respected and venerated and provide a new context for us to think about around her life.”

The installation includes comfortable seating like sofas and armchairs in an effort to invite people into a less rigid atmosphere to reflect on the art.

The Speed will offer public and community programming around the topics of personal and community healing, gun violence, and empowerment, throughout the duration of the exhibit.

The special community programming starts After Hours on Friday, June 23.

“In the Garden” is open throughout November 26.

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