Kehinde Wiley - New Now New York Tuesday, September 28, 2021 | Phillips

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  • "It's a rebuke of the mugshot, it's an ability to say, ‘I will be seen the way I choose to be seen." —Kehinde Wiley 

    An early example of his celebrated practice, Kehinde Wiley’s Untitled (Mugshot), completed the same year as his 2001 residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem, represents the artist’s earliest examinations of the language of portraiture. Joining a contemporary sitter and a setting taken from the ivory towers of art history, the present work raises the contemporary mugshot to the heights of heroic portraiture, bridging tradition and modernity and juxtaposing privilege and struggle.


    Wiley ostensibly drew inspiration for this work from an NYPD mugshot he encountered on the street during his Studio Museum residency, which “got [him] thinking about portraiture, about the choices that one has to make in order to be in the portrait of this type.”1 Moved by the realization that such mugshots are often a defining form of portraiture of young Black men, and recognizing that grand portraits endow sitters with agency and power, Wiley has endeavored to subvert this artform, applying it to purposes grounded in contemporary America. Aiming to “replace the kings, princes, and prophets of old master paintings with contemporary African Americans, painted from life,” Wiley set out with works such like Untitled (Mugshot) as he embarked on a careerlong exploration of the formal conventions of portraiture.2


    Detail of the present work

    Painting Portraiture


    Untitled (Mugshot) is representative of Wiley’s longstanding interest in portraiture and in representations of Black people in contemporary visual media. Executed at the onset of his professional career, the present lot exemplifies the investigations of race, representation, and power that have undergirded Wiley’s work ever since. Considering Titian, Van Dyck, and Ingres as his aesthetic ancestors, Wiley intimately ties his practice to the established language of historical portraiture. A parallel and equally important artistic lineage is that of Charles White, Robert Colescott, and Barkley Hendricks, whose focus on representing Black people is central to the compositions and conversations surrounding Wiley’s work. Fusing these influences, Wiley renders young Black men in positions of power, representing his own personal culture and history within his artistic practice. By recontextualizing a found police photo, Untitled (Mugshot) is emblematic of Wiley’s early efforts to upend the rarified grandiosity of classical portraiture and uplift the overlooked in contemporary society.


    While Wiley remains committed to uplifting everyday individuals, his work now attracts attention from pop stars, politicians, and the world’s leading arts institutions. Wiley was recently commissioned to create Rumors of War, a grand-scale equestrian sculpture, for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, and was personally selected by President Barack Obama to paint his official portrait as 44th President of the United States, now part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington. His contemporary achievements, however, would not be possible without the investigations of portraiture pioneered by works like Untitled (Mugshot).


    1 “The Exquisite Dissonance of Kehinde Wiley”, All Things Considered, May 22, 2015, online
    2 Farah Nayeri, “Kehinde Wiley on Painting the Powerless. And a President.”, The New York Times, November 27, 2017, online

    • Provenance

      Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist)
      Private Collection, New York
      Christie's, New York, March 6, 2014, lot 167
      Acquired at the above sale 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 a Contemporary New York Collection


Untitled (Mugshot)

signed, dedicated and dated "Kehinde Wiley 2001 to Shanique with all my love! –K" on the reverse
oil on canvas, in artist's frame
30 x 30 in. (76.2 x 76.2 cm)
Painted in 2001.

Full Cataloguing

$50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for $69,300

Contact Specialist

Patrizia Koenig

Head of New Now Sale

212 940 1279

[email protected]

New Now

New York Auction 28 September 2021