A New Republic

This summer the Virginia Museum of Art in Richmond, Virginia was showcasing an absolutely brilliant exhibition featuring the works of Kehinde Wiley.  

Luckily for us, our friend Austin went to check it out!


On Tuesday I attended the VMFA’s Kehinde Wiley exhibition and was more than satisfied and impressed by his work.

As I expected to be.

Allow me to preface my comments with fact that I have a great appreciation for visual art, though I’ve never studied art.

I don’t know the history nor do I know the proper terms and techniques, so forgive me in advance.

So, I walk down the stairs to the lower level of the VMFA, hand my ticket to the attendant, and as soon as I turn the corner I meet Michael Jackson’s tender, innocent, and boyish yet fierce and powerful gaze peering back at me as he is perched atop a majestic white horse bowing its head in a curtsy.


In this painting, Michael is wearing the same regal armor as Felipe II in Rubens’ Felipe II on Horseback.

This incredible, larger than life, portrait set the tone for what I was about to experience throughout this exhibit; Black (or People of Color) presented in heroic, beautiful, and classic poses, made famous by white artists with white subjects, to show that  modern western culture has icons and personalities, famous or not, of color that are just as important and grandiose as those of centuries ago.

As I continue through the gallery I notice the other gigantic portrait pieces set in the backdrop of classical art pieces.

I saw the famous Jacques-Louis David inspired piece, “Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps”  with a man clad in Timbs ( classic Timberland boots) and trendy street-wear military fatigues striking the same pose as Napoleon Bonaparte.

Then, further into the gallery, two young black men striking the same pose as that struck in “Two heroic sisters of the grassland” in a piece by the same name.I wish I had the art history vocabulary to really do these portraits justice as to how they compare to their classical counterparts because his work is astounding on its own, but I imagine that someone with the historical knowledge of the classics would have a much more profound experience and appreciation for his work.

His mastery goes far beyond the medium of oil paints. This exhibit showcased incredibly detailed facial sculptures, smaller portraits with gold leaf detailed frames, a video presentation, and, most impressive to me (because I don’t understand how this art form is produced)  several of stained glass works. Truly, a magnificent exhibit!
Kehinde Wiley is a contemporary American treasure and this exhibit completely validated my Kehinde Wiley fan club membership.

Wiley’s works have often been in the background of tv shows and movies and the artist often engages with greater cultural projects across the country. More information about the artwork of Kehinde Wiley and upcoming projects can be found at the Brooklyn-based artists website.
A fully illustrated catalogue published by the Brooklyn Museum and DelMonico Books/Prestel accompanies the VMFA exhibition and can be purchased through the VMFA gift shop site.