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Wiley, Kehindefree

American, 20th–21st century, male.

Born 1977, in Los Angeles.

Painter, sculptor.

Kehinde Wiley received his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1991 and his MFA from Yale University in 2001. In the final year of his master’s degree, he was an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. In 2015, he was awarded the US Department of State Medal of Arts.

Wiley’s early work focused on the exclusion of African-American men from the Western art historical canon by placing them within it in a contemporary context. He is best known for his Passing/Posing series, which was featured at his first solo museum exhibition in 2004 at the Brooklyn Museum. In this series, he painted portraits of African-American men wearing clothes that embodied hip-hop culture and standing in front of ornate backgrounds. In contrast to their contemporary costumes, the backgrounds and overall aesthetic emulate Renaissance and Baroque portraits. He casts everyday men as saints and other monumental figures in art history, such as his highly praised Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps, in which he replaced the heroic figure of the French emperor on horseback with a young black man in Timberland boots and camouflage fatigues. Just as Wiley challenges assumptions about the portrayal of race, he also subverts traditional gender roles and images of masculinity. Appropriating portraits of 16th-century women, Wiley casts urban men in the place of the female subjects, such as a young man casually dressed in a Broncos jersey and jeans in the pose of the female figure in a Byzantine manuscript (Passing/Posing (Female Prophet Anne, Who Observes the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, 2003). In 2012, he created the series An Economy of Grace, which featured African-American women in front of ornate backgrounds, similar to the style of his Passing/Posing portraits. Unlike his paintings of men, the women are dressed in gowns from Givenchy and other high-end designers, marking them out as members of a modern-day aristocracy and the contemporary equals of the European women in the classical paintings he re-creates.

In 2015, Wiley debuted the exhibition A New Republic, which included paintings as well as sculptures and stained glass. The exhibition featured new and old paintings, such as the Down series, large-scale works where men in contemporary clothing re-created monumental portraits from the art historical canon, this time taking on prone and lying-down poses. Although the aesthetics and concepts of Down echo Wiley’s earlier series, the figures are newly vulnerable, sexualized, and prone to death and violence in ways that challenge traditional images of classic male virility and heroism. In the series World Stage (2006–2014), Wiley expanded his subjects to include faces from a greater variety of races and mixed race individuals. Following a style he has developed throughout his career, Wiley painted portrait series inspired by countries with a colonial heritage. The artist chose models from each community and placed the figures in front of landscapes and patterned backgrounds inspired by local history and culture. While highlighting the racial and cultural diversity of these post-colonial communities, Wiley’s work once again spotlighted those who have traditionally been excluded from the Western canon, due to race, gender, and sexual identity.

Group Exhibitions

2001, It’s Bigger than Hip Hop, Rush Arts, New York

2002, Black Romantic and Ironic/Iconic, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York

2004, African American Artists in Los Angeles, A Survey Exhibition: Fade, City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, Los Angeles

2007, Crossing the Line: African American Artists in the Jacqueline Bradley and Clarence Otis Jr. Collection, Cornell Fine Arts Museum, Orlando, FL

2008, 30 Americans, Rubell Family Collection, Miami

2008, RECOGNIZE! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture, Smithsonian Institution, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC

2009, Other People: Portraits from the Grunwald and Hammer Collections, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

2011, Who, What, Wear: Selections from the Permanent Collection, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York

2012, The Bearden Project, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York

2014, The Beautiful Game, Los Angeles Museum of Art, Los Angeles

2015, The Rise of Sneaker Culture, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY

2017, Versus Rodin: Bodies across Space and Time, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Solo Exhibitions

2002, Passing/Posing, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago

2003, Faux/Real, Deitch Projects, New York

2004, Passing/Posing: The Paintings of Kehinde Wiley, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY

2005, Rumors of War, Deitch Projects, New York

2007, The World Stage – China, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Milwaukee

2008, Down, Deitch Projects, New York

2008, The World Stage: Lagos-Dakar, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York

2009, The World Stage: Africa, Lagos-Dakar, Artpace, San Antonio

2009, The World Stage: Brazil, Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

2010, The World Stage: India, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago

2011, The World Stage: Israel, Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

2012, An Economy of Grace, Sean Kelly, New York

2012, The World Stage: France 1880–1960, Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris

2013, The World Stage: Jamaica, Stephen Friedman, London

2014, The World Stage: Haiti, Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA

2015, Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, Modern Art Museum Fort Worth, Fort Worth, TX

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Atlanta (High MA): Thiogo Oliveira do Rosario Rozendo from the World Stage: Brazil series (2009, oil on canvas)

Boston (MFA): John, 1st Baron Byron (2013, oil on canvas)

Detroit (Institute of Arts): Officer of the Hussars (2007, oil on canvas)

Los Angeles (Hammer Mus.): Portrait of a Man (Folcoportinari) Study (2006, graphite on paper)

Miami (Perez AM): Regard the Class Struggle as the Main Link in the Chain (2007, oil and enamel on canvas)

Minneapolis (Walker Art Center): Untitled from the Passing/Posing Series (2003, coloured pencil on paper)

New York (Brooklyn Mus.): Go (2003, oil on canvas); Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005, oil on canvas); Bound (2014, bronze); other sculptures and paintings

New York (The Jewish Mus.): Alios Itzhak (The World Stage: Israel) (2011, oil and enamel on canvas)

New York (The Metropolitan MA): The Veiled Christ (study) (2008, oil wash on paper)

Seattle (AM): Anthony of Padua (2013, oil on canvas)

Auction Records

New York, 9 Nov 2005: Saint Francis of Paola (2003, oil on canvas in artist’s frame, 82 × 70 ins/208.3 × 177.8 cm) USD 28,000

New York, 17 Dec 2005: Passing/Posing (2003, pigment print in artist’s frame, 29¾ × 29¾ ins/75.6 × 75.6 cm) USD 1,600

New York, 12 May 2006: Easter Realness #6 (2004, oil on canvas, 120 × 120 ins/304.8 × 304.8 cm) USD 38,000

New York, 13 Sept 2006: Female Prophet Anne, Samuel’s Mother (2003, oil on canvas in artist’s frame, 82 × 70 ins/208.2 × 177.8 cm) USD 35,000

New York, 14 Nov 2007: Wip Mrs. Hale as Euphrosyne III (2005, mixed media, oil, and enamel on canvas, 83 × 70 ins/201.8 × 177.8 cm) USD 50,000

New York, 14 May 2008: Passing/Posing from Coronation of the Virgin (2005, oil and enamel on canvas in artist’s frame, 81½ × 69 ins/207 × 175.2 cm) USD 80,000

New York, 12 Nov 2008: Portrait of a Lady (2006, oil and enamel on canvas, 81 × 67¾ ins/205.7 × 172.2 cm) USD 78,000

New York, 14 May 2009: Female Prophet Anne, Samuel’s Mother (2003, oil on canvas, 82 × 71¾ ins/208.3 × 182.2 cm) USD 41,500

London, 29 June 2009: Passing/Posing St. Helena (2004, oil on canvas, 72 × 60 ins/182.9 × 152.4 cm) GBP 42,000

New York, 13 May 2010: Support the Army and Look After the People (2007, oil on canvas, 101¾ × 89½ ins/258.4 × 227.3 cm) USD 85,000

London, 13 Oct 2010: Learn from Comrade Wang Guoful (2007, oil, enamel on canvas, artist’s frame, 101 × 90 ins/256.5 × 228.6 cm) GBP 60,000

New York, 12 May 2011: Femme piquée par un serpent II (2010, oil on canvas, 29½ × 59⅛ ins/74.9 × 150.1 cm) USD 90,000

New York, 23 Sept 2011: St. Sebastian II (Columbus) (2006, oil and enamel on canvas in artist’s frame, 110 × 86 ins/279.4 × 218.4 cm) USD 100,000

New York, 15 Nov 2012: Fool’s Gold (2003, triptych, oil on canvas, 60⅛ × 48 ins/152.7 × 121.9 cm) USD 50,000

New York, 16 Nov 2012: Passing/Posing (Lady Innes) (2005, oil on canvas in artist’s gilded wood frame, 84 × 72 ins/213.4 × 182.9 cm) USD 52,000

New York, 25 Sept 2013: St. Cajetan Thiene (2006, oil on canvas in gilded frame, 72⅛ × 60⅛ in/183.2 × 152.7 cm) USD 80,000

New York, 14 Nov 2013: St. Andrew (2010, oil on canvas in artist’s chosen frame, 110 × 100 ins/279.4 × 254 cm) USD 85,000

New York, 15 May 2014: Charles I and Henrietta Maria (after Anthony Van Dyck) (2006, oil on canvas in artist’s chosen frame, 99 × 110 ins/251.5 × 279.4 cm) USD 115,000

New York, 12 Nov 2014: The Dead Christ in the Tomb (2007, oil and enamel on canvas in artist’s frame, 27½ × 151⅝ ins/95.3 × 385.1 cm) USD 95,000

New York, 5 March 2015: Defend and Develop the Island Together (2006, oil on canvas in artist’s chosen frame, 96 × 72 ins/243.8 × 182.9 cm) USD 100,000

New York, 13 May 2015: Baptism of Clovis (2005, oil and enamel on canvas in artist’s frame, 82¼ × 70¼ × 5 ins/208.9 × 178.4 × 12.7 cm) USD 65,000

New York, 16 Nov 2016: Investiture of Bishop Harold as Duke Franconia (2003, oil on canvas in artist’s frame, 82½ × 72 × 5¾ ins/209.5 × 182.8 × 14.6 cm) USD 60,000; Houdon Paul-Louis (2010–2011, bronze and polished stone base, 34⅛ × 26 × 17 ins/86.6 × 66 × 43.1 cm) USD 100,000

New York, 28 Feb 2017: Portrait Rashaan Gandy (2013, watercolour, oil wash, and aquabord, 12 × 9 ins/30.5 × 22.9 cm) USD 16,000; Untitled (2004, watercolour, ink, and metallic paint on paper in artist’s frame, 71 × 55 ins/180.3 × 139.69 cm) USD 26,000

Bibliography

  • Golden, Thelma, and others: Kehinde Wiley, monograph, Rizzoli, New York, 2012.
  • Sinha, Gayatri/Wiley, Kehinde/Miller, Paul: Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage, India & Sri Lanka, exhibition catalogue, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago, 2012.
  • Oliver, Cynthia/Rogge, Mike/Wiley, Kehinde: Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage, Haiti, exhibition catalogue, Roberts & Tilton, Culver City (CA), 2015.
  • Tsai, Eugenie/Choi, Connie H.: Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, exhibition catalogue, Delmonico Books, New York, 2015.
  • Wiley, Kehinde/Sans, Jérôme: Kehinde Wiley: The World Stage: France 1880–1960, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris, 2015.