Saturday, April 25, 2015

Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic at Brooklyn Museum (Revised)

            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.

In Femme piquée par un serpent (2008), Wiley was inspired by Auguste Clesinger. There is a notion of eroticism, naturalism, and heroism. There are influences from diverse cultures embedded even in the textural designs of the background. However, one would easily notice a trend in his body of work. While I have nothing but compliments for his modern reiteration of classics, I cannot help but to point out his exhibition was conveniently and almost coincidentally displayed along side of Jean-Michel Basquiat. It is as if what started, as an awareness of a specific misunderstood culture never left its home to prove a point. While I fully agree with Wiley’s proposal that Western art is unfairly ethnocentric towards white culture, I see no room for progress if he does the same with his own. Would he be recognized as he is today if he was an Italian decent who painted Italians in Little Italy? Why does the problem have to be either determined as white or black? To tackle such global issue, Wiley needs to paint more than a single portraiture of an Indian (which was displayed at the exhibition) to prove that he indeed is aware that there is a world outside of Harlem.

1 comment:

  1. Your review brings up a lot of issues surrounding and introduced by Wiley's works. However, your statements would be stronger if you made them more direct without qualifying language. I think it would be more compelling to use another word besides ironical--maybe explain why you think this exhibition falls into that category. I would change the 14-year-old career to "career spanning 14 years." You may have missed the video in which he explained his process. His works are actually very global in nature. At present Harlem is only one of many places and people he paints. He visits other countries and meets people there, photographs them, and paints their portraits with backgrounds that relate to their cultural context. Since you may have missed this explanation of his work, your argument fails.