Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic
An exhibition featuring portraits by one of the country’s leading contemporary artists will be on view June 11 through September 5 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Composed of more than 50 monumental paintings and sculptures, Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic raises intriguing questions about race, identity, and the politics of representation.
Recognized for his portrayal of contemporary African American men using conventions of traditional European portraiture, Wiley has expanded his vision to include women and cultures from around the globe. In addition to lesser-known early works, this exhibition also explores new developments, which include bronze busts, “paintings” in stained glass, and works from his World Stage series.
“Kehinde Wiley is one of the most popular artists in America today,” Director Alex Nyerges said. “The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was one of the first comprehensive art museums to acquire his portraits, and we are thrilled to present a larger selection of his work to the public. These paintings and sculptures challenge centuries of stereotypes, and we hope our visitors will feel engaged and make the connection between Wiley’s works and those in our galleries.”
Wiley selects the subjects for his portraits through the process of “street casting” by enlisting young men and women to pose for his paintings. These people, wearing hoodies, jeans, and baseball caps, are contrasted against ornate backgrounds that evoke an aristocratic style of portraiture. By replacing European aristocrats with black subjects, Wiley points out the absence of African Americans from such historical narratives.
The works on view will include selections from his ongoing World Stage series, where Wiley’s work has taken on a global perspective. In addition to establishing a studio in Beijing, China, Wiley has spent time in Africa, France, Israel, Jamaica, Haiti, and other countries. Portraits of women from the An Economy of Grace series include The Two Sisters, which was lent to the exhibition by VMFA Board of Trustees President William A. Royall, Jr., and his wife, Pamela.
To help visitors make their own connections between the works in the exhibition and works in the collection, VMFA has prepared a space, The Art Lounge: Connect Kehinde Wiley to VMFA, where visitors can access art history books, touch screens, and free cards to look deeper into Wiley’s artistic process. A map also will be available to help locate all 12 corresponding works in VMFA’s galleries.
The exhibition is organized by the Brooklyn Museum and curated by Eugenie Tsai, John and Barbara Vogelstein Curator of Contemporary Art at the Brooklyn Museum. VMFA’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Sarah Eckhardt, PhD., is the organizing curator for VMFA.