Exhibition | Kehinde Wiley: The Prelude

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on January 17, 2022

Now on view at the National Gallery:

Kehinde Wiley: The Prelude
National Gallery, London, 10 December 2021 — 18 April 2022

Kehinde Wiley is an American artist best known for his portraits that render people of colour in the traditional settings of Old Master paintings. Most famously, in 2017, he was commissioned to paint Barack Obama, becoming the first Black artist to paint an official portrait of a president of the United States. Wiley’s work makes reference to the canon of European portraiture by positioning contemporary Black sitters, from a range of ethnic and social backgrounds, in the poses of the original historical, religious, or mythological figures. His images—as part quotation, part intervention—raise questions about power, privilege, identity, and above all highlight the absence or relegation of Black figures within European art.

In this exhibition, Wiley shifts his focus from one European tradition, Grand Manner portraiture, to another, landscape painting. Through new artworks—five paintings and a six-channel digital film—Wiley looks at European Romanticism and its focus on epic scenes of oceans and mountains, building relationships with the National Gallery’s collection of historical landscapes and seascapes by Turner, Claude, Vernet, and Friedrich. Like Wiley’s earlier paintings, this new work will look back at Old Masters as a way to create new connections and raise fresh questions.


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