The Edition


Creative Exchange Agency is pleased to announce the unveiling of Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of former president Barack Obama

Feb. 13, 2018

The unveiling of Barack Obama’s presidential portrait by the artist Kehinde Wiley brings with it a larger statement about American art. Last fall, when Obama selected Wiley — a figurative painter who deploys the techniques, poses and patterns of the grand tradition of Baroque European paintings to portray contemporary black and brown men he finds on the street — to paint his official portrait for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, it at least reflected the Obamas’ well-developed connections to the world of culture. The Obamas are connoisseurs — they were the first presidential family to display work by African-American painters like Glenn Ligon and Alma Thomas — and yet their choice stood out, because Wiley is an artist whose stature in the art world comes close to matching Obama’s in politics. When he first started showing his work in the early 2000s, Wiley’s reversals of classical figuration were an outlier at a time when most painters dealt in abstraction. His ascent was swift; he had not one but two shows at the Brooklyn Museum, in 2004 and in 2015. More recently, his works were featured on the hip-hop television series “Empire,” a show that also has featured portraits by artists like Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas and Barkley Hendricks. But what might be most important about Kehinde Wiley’s selection was that it seemed to signal contemporary portraiture’s new relevance, the reconsideration of a mode that had been thought out of fashion, if not downright taboo, for decades. Long confined to historical museums and musty mansions, it seemed like portraiture had suddenly been rushed out of storage.

Source: New York Times

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