Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic
The second exhibit I visited at the Phoenix Art Museum last Saturday was one called Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic. It was a vast exhibit of some 60 large scale portraits and sculptures from the past 14 years of his career.
The paintings were mostly very large and brilliant with bright, colorful backgrounds framing the people who were posed in a highly stylized manner.
There was even a selection of stained glass windows with brilliant jewel-like colors.
Here is a quote from his description of his religious subjects:
"...the Christian Church was the second power that determined the course of history in Europe. Images of biblical figures had a commanding presence in churches and palaces - often these were the only human likenesses that ordinary people, farmers and laborers would see in their lifetimes. Fashioned in the image of the white ruling class, these images of biblical protagonists had no relation to historical or geographic accuracy. As such, these images helped to amplify and legitimize the existing European authorities and hierarchies."
Wiley has taken these traditionally "white" representations and painted them with people of color in contemporary dress.
It was very impactful.
His works both impressed me and made me think which is what art is supposed to do. I was completely absorbed in the subjects and the stories. In addition to the art works, there was a room showing several videos where Wiley talks about his work and takes us to the places around the world he has visited and recruited models for his portraits. It was fascinating and inspiring.