Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic

We first encountered the incredible artwork of Kehinde Wiley a few years ago at the Masculin/Masculin exhibit at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, which was possibly the greatest art exhibition that we’ve ever seen. So when the Seattle Art Museum announced that they would be showing Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, we knew the exhibit would be a must-see, and were glad to finally have the chance to drive down to Seattle and take Ryan the Greek’s mom to see the exhibit for Mother’s Day.

And what a breathtaking art exhibit of exquisite beauty and power! A stunning achievement of contemporary art by one of the great artists of our time. Here’s how Wiley describes the exhibit on his website:

 “The works presented in Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic raise questions about race, gender, and the politics of representation by portraying contemporary African American men and women using the conventions of traditional European portraiture. The exhibition includes an overview of the artist’s prolific fourteen-year career and features sixty paintings and sculptures.

 Wiley’s signature portraits of everyday men and women riff on specific paintings by Old Masters, replacing the European aristocrats depicted in those paintings with contemporary black subjects, drawing attention to the absence of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives.

 The subjects in Wiley’s paintings often wear sneakers, hoodies, and baseball caps, gear associated with hip-hop culture, and are set against contrasting ornate decorative backgrounds that evoke earlier eras and a range of cultures.

 Through the process of “street casting,” Wiley invites individuals, often strangers he encounters on the street, to sit for portraits. In this collaborative process, the model chooses a reproduction of a painting from a book and reenacts the pose of the painting’s figure. By inviting the subjects to select a work of art, Wiley gives them a measure of control over the way they’re portrayed.”

 I was absolutely blown away by the scale of some of these paintings, all of which could fit comfortably alongside the large-scale 19th-century French paintings in the Louvre. And while I was familiar with Wiley’s grand portraiture, I was equally impressed by his works in stained-glass and his remarkable bronze sculptures.  The works really need to be seen in person to be fully appreciated, but here are a few of my favorites:


Kehinde Wiley – Randerson Romualdo Cordeiro (2008)

Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness 2013

Kehinde Wiley – Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness (2013)

Morpheus 2008

Kehinde Wiley – Morpheus (2008)

Bound 2014

Kehinde Wiley – Bound (2014)

And here are a few of my mom’s favorites:

The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte (2014)

Kehinde Wiley – The Sisters Zénaïde and Charlotte Bonaparte (2014)

Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha 3

Kehinde Wiley – Princess Victoire of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (2012)

The Two Sisters,” 2012

Kehinde Wiley – The Two Sisters (2012)

Judith and Holofernes 2012

Kehinde Wiley – Judith and Holofernes (2012)

We saw the exhibit on the closing day, and I am glad to say the Seattle Art Museum was packed with people, including many families (no doubt celebrating Mother’s Day like us) and many young people. I applaud SAM for hosting this exhibit and hope to see many more such exhibits by great contemporary artists like Kehinde Wiley in the future.

If you have a chance to see Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic while it tours to other locations around the U.S. (and hopefully the world), you absolutely must go. The next stops will be:

  • the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA (10 June – 11 September 2016);
  • the Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona (7 October 2016 – 8 January 2017);
  • the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio (10 February – 14 May 2017);
  • and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (16 June – 10 September 2017)

In the meantime, check out more of Kehinde Wiley’s work on his website, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!

– Ryan the Greek


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