Amazing. Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic shows his successful 14-year-old career. Wiley’s work is appropriation at its finest; it is refreshing and thought provoking to question the never-ending questions concerning race and gender through the European masters painting and sculpting techniques. There is no doubt the exhibition is a spectacle. However, while it provokes ideas that must be asked and answered, the exhibition falls into the trap of being another ethnocentric representation that one cannot empathize with without the aid of specific background and culture.
Wiley’s work is meticulous and labor intensive. He scouts for his subjects, photographs them, and then digitally manipulates images photographed. Only then does he start the painting. In works like Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005), he merges 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 majestic, heroic postures; to the point where an ‘average Joe’ he found in Harlem could indeed resemble historical figures like Martin Luthor King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.