Amazing. Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic evidently shows his successful 14-year-old career. Wiley’s work is appropriation at its finest; yet it is refreshing and thought provoking enough to question the never-ending questions concerning race and gender through the skills of European masters painting and sculpting techniques. There is no doubt the exhibition is a spectacle. However, while it provokes the ideas that must be questioned and answered, the exhibition ironically falls into the trap of being another ethnocentric representation that one cannot empathize without the aid of specific background and culture.
Wiley’s work is truly meticulous and work intensive. He scouts, photographs, digitally manipulates images. Only then he is allowed to start the painting, which usually is captivating in size. In works like Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005), he clashes and juxtaposes references of Jacques-Louis David’s painting Napoleon Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Great St. Bernard Pass with contemporary black culture. Most of his models are displayed in such majestic, heroic way; to the point where an ‘average Joe’ he found in Harlem would indeed resemble historical figures like Martin Luthor King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.