A museum show we have been looking forward to all winter: Former cover artist, Kehinde Wiley, will be showing The World Stage: Israel series at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco beginning on February 14, 2013. The former SFAI student has turned his World Stage series into one of the most exciting, and revered series in contemporary art, and we are very excited that CJM, who has had great shows over the past few years, will bring the World Stage to SF.
After graduating from the SFAI in 1999, Wiley attended graduate school at Yale University, where he received his master’s degree in 2001. Shortly thereafter, he spent a critical period at The Studio Museum, in Harlem, as an artist-in-residence. Intrigued by the bravado taking place on the streets and the style of inventive, African American dress, Wiley began focusing on portraits of young men from the neighborhood. These hyper-realistically detailed paintings immediately caught the art world’s attention when they were exhibited beginning in 2003. In these portraits, Wiley consciously evokes the visual vocabulary of aristocratic Western European portraiture while his models appear in jeans, T-shirts, or basketball jerseys.
Beginning in 2006 Wiley expanded his vision with The World Stage series, traveling the globe for his subject matter—China, India, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Nigeria, and Senegal—discovering his subject matter in the byways of New Delhi and the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. For each unique series, Wiley maps his subjects within their urban environments and explores their local culture, incorporating into his portraits aspects of regional history, traditional patterns and designs, and sly nods to the social and political milieu in which his models live. In a painting from Senegal, for example, he was inspired by a Dogon sculpture of a husband and wife which he reimagined into a portrait of two Senegalese men. In works from China, he depicts his black subjects in triumphant stances recalling Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
The World Stage: Israel features men the artist met in 2010. Wiley scouted his models in malls, bars, and sporting venues in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Lod, through what he calls “street casting.” The men he depicts are from diverse religions and ethnicities—Israeli Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and Israeli Arabs—but all share the same alpha-male presence essential to the artist’s vision. “I look for people who possess a certain type of power in the streets,” Wiley explains.
Wiley’s adoption of religious Jewish designs in his paintings creates a stunning new context for these historical motifs. Examples of the types of traditional artifacts that inspired Wiley—elaborately decorated Torah ark curtains, marriage contracts (ketubbot), and religious paper plaques (shiviti)—are included in the exhibition to prompt a dialogue between Jewish history and contemporary Israeli life. The Hebrew blessings and biblically-sourced symbols of flora and fauna appearing in Wiley’s colorful portraits are dramatically enlarged and vividly rendered, foregrounding the beauty of their forms and renewing their value as art.
Wiley presents a kaleidoscopic picture of contemporary Israeli diversity, a society at the physical and symbolic intersection of Africa, Europe, and Asia, struggling with deep political issues while still functioning as a global center for cultural interchange. As Wiley’s paintings reveal, Israel—a country smaller than New Jersey—is more ethnically diverse and globally attuned than most people realize. It is home to Jews from Arab lands who fled Muslim countries, Ethiopian Jews with dreadlocks, and a gay community with a distinctive international voice. “I wanted to mine where the world is right now,” Wiley explains, “and chart the presence of black and brown people throughout the world.”
—Karen Tsujimoto, Curator
Kehinde Wiley | The World Stage: Israel
On view February 14–May 27, 2013
Contemporary Jewish Museum