On a beautiful sunny Seattle day, we were lucky enough to use our SAM membership to check out the new exhibit: Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic. WOW. DAMN. If you are lucky enough to live in Seattle, go check it out. I am totally impressed with this artist’s vast talent. Not only can he paint scenes that you can’t help but stare at in awe and examine up close to ponder how he can paint so realistically but his sculpture and stained glass pieces of art are equally fantastic.
Unfortunately, we missed Kehinde in person at the opening event but we did watch the documentary on his “An Economy of Grace” paintings last night after seeing his work. The story as told on this PBS video really brings to life the paintings on display and I would suggest you take the time to view it either before or after you visit the SAM. Kehinde works in both New York and Beijing. In the documentary, we loved seeing how his artists help with the background work in his Beijing warehouse, the trip that the art took to get from China to the first showing in NYC and how he recruits his street models. You don’t realize how much work goes into prepping the space to showcase the art–the right wall color, the right frame, etc. WOW.
So why is his art so different? Kehinde picks people off the street to be his models, focusing on street culture, black masculinity and hip hop as portraits of these individuals set in historically famous poses of European works. The contrast between the Nike-wearing regular people in their lavish portrait settings is striking and stays with you long after you leave the gallery.
A self-identified gay man, Kehinde grew up in LA and began painting at an early age. As the SAM gallery guide explains, “He challenges long-held assumptions by opening new doors of perception, offering unprecedented interpretations and reimaging the black figure as subject, object and agent.” As I watched part of his documentary in the gallery, the large audience included a diverse crowd, including children learning about this interesting exhibition. Well done, Kehinde and SAM for a breathtaking experience. We plan on going back again to savor the creativity before this unique show moves on to the next lucky museum.