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  • "The story starts with going to Virginia, of course, and seeing the monuments that line the streets. I'm a Black man walking those streets, I'm looking up at those things that give me a sense of dread and fear, what does that feel like physically to walk a public space and to have the work state, your country, your nation this is what we stand by? No. We want more. We demand more. We creative people create more." —Kehinde Wiley

    Responding to History


    On a visit to Richmond, Virginia in 2016, Kehinde Wiley walked beneath the imposing Confederate statues that line Monument Avenue, a location that has become central to the controversial topic of the removal or maintenance of Confederate monuments. It was on this trip when Wiley conceived of the idea for his monumental sculpture Rumors of War, 2019, currently housed in the permanent collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. The sculpture was first unveiled in Times Square in New York in the fall of 2019, where a global crossroads was transformed into a forum for civic engagement to address contemporary issues about the country’s troubled history. The present work, a model for this massive equestrian sculpture, is a masterfully crafted bronze that unmistakably quotes the visual language of power employed in the making of the Confederate statues that line the streets of Richmond and speckle the entire southern half of the United States. By appropriating the imagery of these monuments, Wiley is responding to the reality of America’s past, representing a new set of values for America’s present, stating, “We say yes to inclusivity, we say yes to broader notions of what it means to be an American.”ii
     

    Installation view of Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 2019, Image: Zach Gibson / Stringer ©Getty Images, Artwork ©Kehinde Wiley

    The present work is part of a limited edition of bronze models made prior to the sculpture held in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, each of which allow the viewer to admire the sculptural form from a more intimate perspective. Wiley’s Rumors of War is exceptional in its craftsmanship and visionary in its ability to bring about a shift in public discourse about America’s past, present and future. Both factors, which have defined his still-growing career, are emblematic of Wiley’s technical prowess as an artist and his contributions to art history more broadly. The debate over Confederate monuments and the role of public art has become one of the most relevant societal topics of today, and through Rumors of War, Wiley offers a highly original contribution to the national discourse.

     

    Redefining a Genre

     

    Stylistically, the bronze equestrian sculpture bears a striking resemblance to Confederate statues. In fact, Wiley’s sculpture is nearly identical to the statue of the Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, which was among the first to be erected in Richmond during the Jim Crow era. In both sculptures, the horse valiantly charges forward while the rider turns to survey his surroundings. However, the rider who sits atop Wiley’s horse is not a decorated war hero, but rather a young Black man dressed in everyday attire, donning Nikes and ripped jeans, sitting with strength and fortitude. Unlike the Confederate statues that use the idiom of power to depict a specific hero, Wiley states his work “is not about honoring one particular individual.”iii The anonymity of the rider allows anyone to relate to him, empowering each viewer to envision him or herself in the rider’s position.

     

    Wiley has gained significant critical acclaim as a portrait painter over the course of his 20-year career. In 2018 Wiley painted the official portrait of President Obama, which features the president seated against a lush vegetative background. Like Rumors of War, the portrait of President Obama was subject to high praise and widespread media attention. Before that in the mid-2000s, Wiley embarked upon a series of portraits that share the title Rumors of War, featuring young Black men painted in the style of French Neo-Classical equestrian portraits. Situated firmly as an inheritor of the Classical Western tradition, Wiley creates naturalistic portraits that portray contemporary African American individuals against sumptuous ornate backgrounds, which have in turn refreshed and redefined the genre of portraiture. While Rumors of War represents Whiley’s unexpected foray in a sculptural medium, the work’s Classical visual idiom, Black subject and use of powerful rhetoric fits seamlessly into Wiley’s celebrated practice.

     

    Cut from the Archives

     

     

    i “Artist Kehinde Wiley’s First Public Sculpture in Times Square is a Powerful Rejoinder to Confederate-Era Monuments,” Artnet News, October 3, 2019, online
    ii “Kehinde Wiley: Rumors of War | The Art Scene” Youtube video, VPM, November 13, 2019, online
    iii Kriston Capps, “Kehinde Wiley’s Anti-Confederate Memorial,” The New Yorker, December 24, 2019, online

    • Provenance

      Sean Kelly, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • 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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Property from an Important Private Collection

348

Rumors of War

incised with the artist's signature, number and date "Kehinde Wiley 2019 3/9" along the lower front edge of the sculpture; incised with the artist's initials "KW" on the horse's bridle
patinated bronze
sculpture 52 x 62 x 27 in. (132.1 x 157.5 x 68.6 cm)
base 36 x 65 1/2 x 33 1/2 in. (91.4 x 166.4 x 85.1 cm)
overall 88 x 65 1/2 x 33 1/2 in. (223.5 x 166.4 x 85.1 cm)

Executed in 2019, this work is number 3 from an edition of 9 plus 3 artist's proofs.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$350,000 - 450,000 

Sold for $403,200

Contact Specialist

Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York

1 212 940 1250
[email protected]

 

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale, Afternoon Session

New York Auction 24 June 2021