Ongoing since 2012, the Real DMZ Project interrogates the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea through annual, research-based exhibitions that bring together the works of Korean and international artists. Sunjung Kim, the independent curator behind the project, conceived the idea of exploring the DMZ while curating Japanese artist...
London's galleries and museums are gearing up for a lively October, with Frieze London and Frieze Masters running between 3 and 6 October 2019 at Regent's Park, along with 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, taking place across the same dates at Somerset House; and the tenth anniversary of the Sunday Art Fair, showcasing new and emerging artists...
Mark Bradford walks through Mark Bradford: Los Angeles Mark Bradford: Los Angeles at the Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai (27 July–13 October 2019) is the artist's largest solo exhibition to date in China. In this video for Ocula, Bradford and Diana Nawi, curator of the show, walk through selected works that convey the artist's concerns with...
Kehinde Wiley. Courtesy Le Monde Magazine. Photo: Gilles Sabrie.
Costume trois-pièces, main droite sur la poitrine, main gauche sur un sceptre d’autorité. Sur son site Internet, Kehinde Wiley, 42 ans, prend crânement la pose, au risque du ridicule.
Qu’on se rassure, le peintre américain, qui expose à Paris à partir du 18 mai, n’a pas la grosse tête. S’il mime un propriétaire terrien ou un aristocrate européen façon tableau ancien, c’est pour une autre raison. Depuis ses débuts, il est obsédé par une idée : les enjeux de pouvoir et leur transposition aux canons de l’art.
Lui dont le nom a surgi dans les médias quand il a été chargé de réaliser le portrait officiel de Barack Obama, en 2018, est taraudé depuis l’enfance par ce sujet. Il le pressentait déjà dans les musées. 'Ce qu’il y a de plus toxique, c’est qu’à cet âge-là on ne s’insurge pas contre l’absence de corps noir dans les tableaux, ça paraît presque normal', raconte-t-il.
For painter Kehinde Wiley, realism is a form of subversion. Known primarily as a portraitist, he draws from Western art history—particularly Renaissance, Dutch Golden Age, Baroque, and Neoclassical painting—to examine themes of race, class, gender, and power. In his works, the artist replaces white figures with contemporary brown and black sitters, ranging from strangers he met on the streets to well-known personalities like soccer stars Samuel Eto'o, John Mensah, and Emmanuel Eboué; musicians Michael Jackson and Notorious B.I.G.; and even the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, whom he was commissioned to paint for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., in 2018. The artist's highly naturalistic portraits are often paired with elaborate decorative motifs derived from period textiles such as Dutch wax prints and Baroque brocade.
Wiley's revisionist portraits have generated new discourse about the representation of race and gender in art, casting new light on the canon of established white aristocrats and drawing attention to the absence of black figures in the history of Western portraiture. Among the most iconic of his portraits is Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005), based on Jacques-Louis David's equestrian portrait First Consul, crossing the Alps at Great St Bernard Pass, 20 May 1800 (1803). In his version, the artist replaces Napoleon and his 19th-century military regalia with an anonymous black man dressed in a bandana, cargo pants, and Timberland boots. Behind the figure, the grand Alps becomes a decorative background rendered in a colour palette of red and gold. Tiny sperm were also included as relief forms in the frame—a satire on the tradition of propagating masculine power and privilege in Western portraiture through devices such as equestrian figures and military gear. Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps belongs to 'Rumors of War' (2005), a painting series that focuses on equestrian portraits.
Wiley began painting his signature portraits in 2001, while residing in New York as part of a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem that involved inviting strangers he encountered on the streets back to his studio. Imitating selected postures from historical paintings, his models posed for photographs that he would use to make his paintings. As a foil to the common association of young African American males with violence and antisocial behaviour in American popular culture, his larger-than-life portraits celebrate the sitters' youth, stature, and status within their communities. Due to the increased demand for his paintings, which are often several metres tall and densely ornate, he works with a team of assistants—a studio system that hails back to the days of Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Rubens, further extending the artist's appropriation of canonical art forms and modes of working. In 2006, he opened another studio in Beijing after visiting a friend there and finding himself drawn to the city for its privacy in its distance from New York. Today, Beijing continues to be a major production centre for the artist, alongside his New York studio.
Since 2007, Wiley has extended his street casting globally with the series 'The World Stage' (2007–ongoing), for which he travels to different countries—including Brazil, France, Haiti, Jamaica, and Sri Lanka—and asks young black and brown people living there to model for him. In the paintings belonging to this series, his characteristic brightly coloured backgrounds are adorned with motifs borrowed from different visual cultures. For example, West African kaftans—known for their often colourful and complex designs—inspired the intricate backgrounds in the 'Lagos & Dakar' (2008) paintings, while the architectural form in the portrait Alios Itzhak from 'Israel' (2011) is derived from a Jewish decorative plaque known as mizrah. The history of each sitter's country also influenced their poses, such as the historic propaganda posters from the Cultural Revolution that inspired 'China' (2007). One painting from the series, Celebrating with Great Joy and Enthusiasm the Publication of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China (2007), shows a young man dressed in hip-hop-style attire lifting a bundle of lilies over his head—a composition based on a poster in which a young woman similarly holds flowers while standing before red flags.
As part of his growing range of represented subjects, Wiley has begun to depict women. The series 'An Economy of Grace' (2012) consists solely of portraits of African American women wearing custom-made couture gowns (created by the Italian fashion designer Riccardo Tisci) against brightly coloured floral backgrounds. The paintings are similar in composition to historical portraits featuring female subjects by European painters. Juliette Recamier (2012), for example, depicts an African American woman reclining on a long sofa and is based on David's Madame Récamier (1800). Two paintings in the series, titled Judith and Holofernes and Judith Beheading Holofernes (both 2012), reference the biblical story of Judith, in which Judith lures an adversary into her tent to behead him. A popular subject in European art history, numerous artists, including Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi, have represented this story. In his treatment, a black woman with a knife holds the severed head of Holofernes, depicted as a white woman. In 2018, in light of the unveiling of his Obama portrait at the National Portrait Gallery, The North Carolina Museum of Art promoted Judith and Holofernes (which it had purchased in 2012) for viewing, and the artwork received some backlash from viewers who regarded it as racist.
Beyond portraiture, Wiley also examines the Western tradition of sculpture. The artist first worked in sculpture in 2006 for his collaboration with Cerealart in Philadelphia, creating a series of three busts in cast marble and resin. They depict young black men, dressed in contemporary clothes such as sleeveless shirts or hoodies, their postures based on Baroque and Renaissance artworks including the Italian sculptor Bernini's Bust of Louis XIV (1665) and French artist Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux's Why born a slave! (1872). In September 2019, he will unveil his first public artwork, titled Rumors of War (2019), in Times Square—an equestrian statue of a young black man, conceived in response to various Confederate monuments in the United States. After its debut in Times Square, the sculpture will then be permanently installed in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
A celebrated painter of his generation, Wiley has exhibited widely in Europe and the United States. In 2015, the Brooklyn Museum in New York hosted a major solo exhibition of his work, titled A New Republic. The exhibition toured to four other museums, including the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas; the Seattle Art Museum; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; and Phoenix Art Museum. At the Seattle Art Museum, the opening-day attendance broke records with more than 2,800 visitors. His paintings are in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and the Brooklyn Museum, amongst other institutions.
'I am interested in transformation and artifice. My newest exhibition will engage with the history of France and its outward facing relationship to black and brown bodies, specifically relating to sexual proclivity. Gauguin features heavily in the imagination of France and her global interface–with that comes an entire history of complicated gazing. I interrogate, subsume, and participate in discourse about Māhū, about France, and about the invention of gender.'
– Kehinde Wiley (2019)
Kehinde Wiley, star of the American art scene and Barack Obama’s official portrait artist, is back in Paris. For his first Parisian exhibition since the 2016 show at Petit Palais, he will be unveiling a new series of paintings and a video-installation based on his time spent this past year in Tahiti.
Wiley’s new works are focused on Tahiti’s Māhū community, the traditional Polynesian classification of people of a third gender, between male and female. The Māhū were highly respected within their society until they were banned by Catholic and Protestant missionaries. Wiley's portraits of beautiful, transgender Tahitian women reference and confront Paul Gauguin's celebrated works, which also feature subjects from the transgender community, but are fraught with historical undertones of colonialism and sexual objectification. Building off of Wiley's earlier portraits that addressed issues of masculine identity and virility, these new portraits explore issues of identity through the lens of transformation, exploring both artifice and artificiality as a trans-cultural phenomenon.
Over the past fifteen years, Wiley has developed a remarkable body of work that at once questions and participates in the western art-historical canon of portraiture. Wiley’s encounter with Tahiti joins with the artist’s continued journey across the contemporary world, following his explorations of North America, South Asia, and West Africa. Wiley’s focus on Tahiti now offers the opportunity to re-examine France, its colonial history, and its image through the prism of Gauguin’s work. True to his oeuvre, this exhibition presents a uniquely political and aesthetic perspective on the power of art to shift perception and to make visible history’s forgotten figures.
Kehinde Wiley was born in Born in 1977 in Los Angeles. He currently lives and works between New York, Beijing, and Dakar.
Kehinde Wiley graduated from Yale University in 2001 and completed a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2002. In 2018 he became the first African-American artist to paint an official U.S. Presidential portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Former U.S. President Barack Obama selected the artist for this honour.
Kehinde Wiley has held solo exhibitions at institutions across the United States and Europe including: Brooklyn Museum, New York; Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas; the Petit Palais, Paris; Saint Louis Museum of Art, Missouri; and Seattle Art Museum, Washington. His works are included in the collections of numerous public institutions.
In June 2019 in Dakar, Senegal, Kehinde Wiley will inaugurate a new multi-disciplinary artist-in-residency program, Black Rock Senegal.
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