Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic
The Brooklyn Museum
February 20–May 24, 2015
Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing and Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery, 5th Floor
Often it takes a retrospective to even begin to comprehend an artist's work (i.e. Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly) as many pieces come together to form the larger picture. That said this writer has been witness to Kehinde Wiley's canvasses for the duration of his once nascent and now prolonged trip into art-world superstardom (even accidentally stumbling upon his studio and a party therein and been present when Jeffrey Deitch exhibited his portrait of Michael Jackson on horseback after Peter Paul Reuben's painting of King Phillip ll of Spain at Art Basel Miami Beach in the wake of the megastar's death the previous annum).
Therein I have always found the works alluring if not after a while repetitive. Moreover, I enjoyed this painter's replacing figures from Western European history with youngish African American males and then implanting often luxuriant patterned backdrops. Wiley with a sense of expert timing even took up VH1'S baton and painted the works for their " Hip Hop Honors" awards show and then painted everybody of the male variety internationally when for PUMA he rendered the teams of the world Cup.
In the meantime of course unless Kehinde wanted to become known as a one trick pony he had to begin to diversify. So this sets the stage for the exhibition as we enter. Here then begins a series of many large scale portraits of young African men which in the show's foyer are interspersed with bronzes as in portrait busts of a very similar dramatis personae and stained glass pictorial sequences. The latter of which Roberta Smith in her New York Times review indicated were too realistic and this viewer agrees.
Once inside the crux of the exhibition we learn about the mug shot of a young man that Wiley found on the ground in Harlem which set him upon this course. Eventually we reach the section wherein Wiley ventured to West Africa in order to paint continental African men often against ornate backdrops similar to the ones he had deployed previously. Then we hit the video segment where film sequences document the artist’s trips to West Africa and the Caribbean to paint people there (i cluding women who he has now undertaken to portray).
Indeed in the next room is a series of famous paintings of Caucasian female society types are redone with African American female subjects ( some of whom he has placed in haute couture). The resulting effect is marvelous, from the exercise he started off he has now created his own symphonic style. The exhibit then closes as Wiley returns to depicting young black men painted on small panels after the Flemish master Hans Memling.. These works unlike many of his other paintings are not the size of billboards; but are rendered on a scale perfect for intimate appreciation ( which Ms. Smith once again as she conveyed in the Times so enjoyed and then progressed to relate that this is here where Wiley's concentration should perhaps presently lie).