Kehinde Wiley at the Musee d’Orsay, Paris

Kehinde Wiley is a contemporary American portrait painter. His exceptional work features African Americans in a naturalistic manner most often set against a pattern of bright abstract patterns reminiscent of some of the wallpaper patterns used by European painters in the 19th Century. The portraits themselves are influenced by Renaissance and other classical portrait sources. And his paintings are monumental in size which lends a certain grandeur and intensity to the works.

His works have been featured in a number of major shows and retrospectives. I first really became aware of his work when I saw a retrospective of his work in Houston some years back. And the Milwaukee Art Museum has a prime example of his work! His most famous work however is his recent portrait of former President Barack Obama for the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian. A portrait true to Wiley’s work but something amazing compared to the tradition of presidential portraits.

© 2018 Kehinde Wiley. Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery

So it was a very pleasant surprise to find a major Kehinde Wiley painting and installation on the main floor of the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. The Musee d’Orsay is a major home of primarily French art from the impressionists through post-impressionists. So you find Rodin, Monet, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and others. But to see not only a living contemporary artist…but an American one at that…and in a prime location with a monumental piece…is simply astonishing.

The work is titled An Archaeology of Silence and features one of Wiley’s signature paintings…but also includes two monumental bronze sculptures as well…a medium that I wasn’t aware that Wiley worked in. But here are a few photos that I shot of the installation and you can see the incredible detail that went into this work. (what I didn’t do is shoot all three pieces in one frame, a regrettable oversight on my part)

photo © 2022 Ed Heinzelman
photo © 2022 Ed Heinzelman
photo © 2022 Ed Heinzelman
photo © 2022 Ed Heinzelman
photo © 2022 Ed Heinzelman
photo © 2022 Ed Heinzelman

And now I am going to attempt to type in the information from the wall placard rather than letting you strain your eyes reading my blurred photo of it:

For nearly 15 years, Kehinde Wiley (who was born in Los Angeles in 1977) has based his work around subverting identities and stereotypes. He has played a pioneering role in the historical rereading of effigies of heroes who were sometimes less than heroic. The artist emphasizes the arrogance of the erect pose, from full-length portraits to equestrian statues. He began by raising the profile of unknown members of oppressed communities of people of colour worldwide by depicting them in these dominant poses, often adopting famous compositions from the history of western painting and statuary.

The works exhibited here, which were unveiled at the Venice Biennale in the spring mark a new direction by showcasing anonymous recumbent figures in the manner of fallen heroes. By depicting his models as victims, but without pathos, Kehinde Wiley elevates them in their state of abandon, in an approach at odds with the conspicuous masculinity advocated by the American model. In the huge painting presented here, in close proximity to the marble figures in the museum which inspired him, the artist submerges the experience of violence in an irrational decorative space. The vulnerability elevated to the monumental scale resonates as an ode to youth and resilience.

from the Musee d’Orsay

And extra credit reading from the Musee’s website: Contemporary readings: Kehinde Wiley From September 13th, 2022 to January 08th, 2023

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