Museum  October 23, 2018  Megan D Robinson

Kehinde Wiley Re-envisions Museum Masterworks at SLAM

Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California © Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley, Three Girls in a Wood, 2018

Courtesy Saint Louis Art Museum

Otto Müller, Three Girls in a Wood, c.1920. Saint Louis Art Museum.

Kehinde Wiley, the first African American to paint an official Presidential portrait, is exhibiting a new body of work inspired by the collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM). Selected by former President Barack Obama to paint his portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Wiley merges contemporary African American portraiture with historical masterworks, placing an under-represented people firmly in view, addressing the politics of race and power in art.

“Kehinde uses works in the Saint Louis Art Museum’s collection as a starting point for observations about race and representation throughout the history of art,” says Brent R. Benjamin, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. “We are extraordinarily honored to collaborate with Kehinde on this exhibition.”

Kehinde Wiley, Madame Valmant, 2018
Courtesy of the arƟst and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California © Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley, Madame Valmant, 2018

Jean-François Millet, The Comtesse of Valmont, c.1841
Courtesy Saint Louis Art Museum

Jean-François Millet, The Comtesse of Valmont, c.1841. Saint Louis Art Museum.

Kehinde Wiley, Jacob de Graeff, 2018
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California © Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley, Jacob de Graeff, 2018

Gerard ter Borch, Jacob de Graeff, c.1674
Courtesy Saint Louis Art Museum

Gerard ter Borch, Jacob de Graeff, c.1674. Saint Louis Art Museum.

Kehinde Wiley, Charles I, 2018
Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California © Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley, Charles I, 2018

Daniel Martensz Mytens the Elder, Charles I, 1633
Courtesy Saint Louis Art Museum

Daniel Martensz Mytens the Elder, Charles I, 1633. Saint Louis Art Museum.

After choosing historical paintings from SLAM's collection to reference, Wiley created 11 large-scale oil paintings. His subjects, strangers Wiley met through a process of street casting, strike poses reminiscent of celebrated European and American portraiture. His lush, decorative backgrounds often interact with the subjects, with patterns mirrored in clothing, and weaving into the foreground. These neighborhood denizens of St. Louis and Ferguson, wearing everyday clothes, bring contemporary African Americans into the art world. Juxtaposed against richly ornate backgrounds, their poses reference historical works, commenting on and transforming portraiture tropes. Wiley’s work makes a statement about equal representation and questions the art world’s historical lack of inclusiveness.

Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California © Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley, Portrait of Mahogany Jones and Marcus Stokes, 2018

Kehinde Wiley: Saint Louis runs until February 10, 2019, at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.