A New Republic by Celebrated Kehinde Wiley Now at Seattle Museum of Art
A New Republic may sound like a name of a Star Wars sequel, but it is actually the title of Kehinde Wiley’s latest exhibition coming to the Seattle Art Museum. Approximately 60 works of one of the most leading contemporary artists of America are to be shown as an overview of the artist’s prolific 14-year career. Paintings, sculptures, videos, and stained glass windows comprise the show which will display Wiley’s powerful and poignant art. His signature work features urban black and brown men displayed in a visual rhetoric of a heroic, powerful, majestic and sublime context. Wiley’s painting style is often compared to that of the traditional portraitists, making him a contemporary descendant of great artists such as Gainsborough, Reynolds, Titian, Ingres and others…
A Modern Approach to Traditional Portraiture
Recasting Photographic Studies in the Style of Traditional History Painting
Even though Kehinde Wiley’s name is often mentioned in the context of the traditional portraitists, make no mistake, his larger-than-life figures disturb and interrupt tropes of portrait painting. The ambiguity and provocative narrative perplex the viewer and instantly call for attention. It was in the early 2000s, during a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem, when Wiley found inspiration in the assertive and self-empowered young men of the neighborhood. By allowing the subjects to dress themselves and giving them the liberty to strike a pose and in a way they would like to be seen, the artist only accompanies their original notion and further broadens the idea. In a process of recasting the photographic studies in the style of traditional history painting, the images enter a completely different sphere of perception and gain an abrupt effect which shocks and bemuses. The juxtaposed notions between the subjects and the traditional style clash and intertwine as the viewer tries to comprehend the unorthodox image. Later on, as Wiley’s practice grew, he began including models found in urban landscapes throughout the world, including people from Dakar, Senegal, Haiti, Rio de Janeiro and other locations. Maintaining his original approach, the artist continues to explore the discourse that is at once visceral and cerebral in scope.
Unorthodox Mix of Juxtaposed Imagery and Styles
Juxtaposed Notions of Contemporary and Modern Subjects with Traditional Themes
A New Republic shows the artist’s progression as he developed his work in various mediums and further broadened his explorations of race, gender, sexual innuendo and the politics of representation. A selection of works from Wiley’s ongoing World Stage project will be featured in the exhibition. The interesting series explores the commonalities found across nations and cultures with a history of colonialism and diverse populations. Kehinde Wiley also explored the questions of who owns the symbolic imagery of power, as seen in his works from the Memling series. These paintings are smaller in scale, depicting young black men in contemporary street styles, reflecting the works of 15th-century Flemish painter Hans Memling who portrayed influential men from the merchant class. An Economy of Grace is another series on display at the show, where Wiley turned his attention to black women, using the same process of street casting and photographic studies. However, this time the subjects were not able to select their own clothes, but were instead adorned in gowns inspired by Old Master paintings, reimagined by Givenchy’s Ricardo Tisci who collaborated closely with the artist.
A New Republic Exhibition by Kehinde Wiley at Seattle Museum of Art
Stained glass pieces will be displayed as an installation part of the show. The atmospheric visual of the medium evokes contemplation and reverence, reminding the viewer of the church’s power. Kehinde Wiley does not shy away from the complicated socio-political histories relevant to the world, instead, his art tackles these subjects in a completely fresh, engaging and inspiring way. With the ever-going discourse of racial issues in our society, the American artist provides a modern approach to the controversial themes, awakening complex issues that many would prefer remain mute. A New Republic exhibition by Kehinde Wiley is on view February 11 – May 8, 2016, at the Seattle Art Museum. Grab a chance to see the artist as he will travel to Seattle for the grand opening celebration on Thursday, February 11, 2016.
All images as credited. Featured images: Kehinde Wiley – Morpheus, 2008, Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, California; Sean Kelly, New York; Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris; and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. © Kehinde Wiley; Kehinde Wiley – Saint George and the Dragon, 2015, © Kehinde Wiley. Used by permission. Photo by Max Yawney; Kehinde Wiley – Colonel Platoff on His Charger, 2007–8, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth; Gift of the Director’s Council and Museum purchase, 2008. © Kehinde Wiley.