Kehinde Wiley - New Now New York Wednesday, February 27, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    Celebrated for his masterful reinterpretations of conventional European portraiture, Kehinde Wiley made history in 2018 as the first African American artist to paint the official presidential portrait of Barack Obama for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Wiley’s subjects typically derive, however, from “street casting” people he encounters in Harlem. Culling from a wide range of art historical sources, Wiley captures these young African American men assuming poses that connote the canonical works of Holbein, Titian, Velázquez, David, and Ingres. Wiley inserts these brilliantly rendered compositions within a lineage of traditional portraiture while also drawing attention to the absence of African Americans from cultural and historical narratives. By positing his subjects into a field of power, he engages, questions, and undermines the vernacular modes of representation that dictate the signification of heroic masculinity.

    A trademark of Wiley’s singular practice, the present lot captures two subjects, wearing contemporary urban attire, rendered in a photo‐realistic style set against and contrasted with a decorative floral background. By extracting these poses and de-contextualizing them from their sources, Wiley prompts his audience to consider the portrayal of power and stereotypes of black masculinity as part of a socially constructed lexicon of visual codes. Collapsing history and style, the present lot conjures both a tension between the figures who seem out of place against their backdrop, while also manifesting a sense of harmony that connects the overall composition.

    The present lot exemplifies Wiley’s unmatched compositional instinct and ability to deliver layers of visual and conceptual gravity that simultaneously coalesce and collide. Whether caught on the perplexing ambiguity or seduced by the radiating fluency of these paintings, Wiley’s audience remains fascinated. Proving his unwavering ability to present his audience with perplexing ambiguities and challenging questions, this work asserts Wiley’s canonical presence within the lineage of portraiture.

  • Artist Biography

    Kehinde Wiley

    Applying the language and devices of royal portraiture to unnamed archetypes of the Black American experience, Kehinde Wiley bestows the pride and prestige of history painting to groups that it has too often overlooked. Rather than depicting the European aristocracy, Wiley’s portraits d’apparats place African Americans against florid backdrops and atop rearing horses, retaining the pomp and opulence of his historical antecedents and situating Black men and women dressed in everyday clothing as the subjects of art historical aggrandization. Often the accoutrements of urban life lend themselves quite readily to historical genres of portraiture; Air Jordans and Timberland boots can be as appropriate to monarchist might as emerald and ermine. Wiley’s goal is twofold: by subverting outmoded forms of expression through the substitution of the sitter, the artist criticizes the historical neglect of adequate Black representation and glorifies undeservingly maligned representatives of modern American life, what he calls “the ability to create painting and destroy painting at once.”

    Wiley’s work has been the subject of universal acclaim. His work can be found in the collections of major institutions across the world, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford. Wiley was also selected in 2017 to paint the official portrait of President Barack Obama, the first Black artist to be given such an honor. Recently, Wiley founded Black Rock, an artist residency in Dakar, Senegal, bringing an important artistic resource to the African continent.

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Untitled (The World Stage: Brazil)

signed and dated "Kehinde Wiley 2012" on the reverse
oil on canvas, in artist's frame
107 x 83 in. (271.8 x 210.8 cm.)
Painted in 2012.

$120,000 - 180,000 

Sold for $150,000

Contact Specialist
Sam Mansour
Associate Specialist, Head of New Now Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1219
[email protected]

New Now

New York Auction 27 February 2019