Reconstructivist Art: Kehinde Wiley

In honor of Kehinde Wiley’s new presidential portrait, please enjoy this repost of my article considering him as an exemplar of Reconstructivist Art, originally published not long after his Columbus Museum of Art show in 2006.

Kehinde Wiley is an African American visual artist, known primarily for his lush, full-scale portraits of young urban African American men in contemporary clothing, but striking poses inspired by well-known paintings from the established canon of classic Western European art.

(1) The Nod to Artifice: Although Wiley’s portraits include figures carefully rendered in a photorealist style, he is known for his highly stylized backgrounds which resemble ornamental wall coverings, and which sometimes interact with the figure in ways that emphasize the artificiality of the portrayal.

(2) A Classic Structure: Wiley’s best-known portraits are based directly on established works of art from the European canon. The connection is established through using the same visual structure as the classical work, with the new subject taking the same or a similar pose,

(3) Transcontextual and/or Iconic Elements: Both the subjects of the portraits (young urban black men in contemporary dress), and the poses taken in the portraits (based on classic portraits from bygone centuries) are iconic elements transcontextualized to the timeless, placeless ornamental space in which Wiley works.

(4) Moments of Genuine Emotion or Significance: In making his juxtapositions, Wiley compels the viewer to look beyond ingrained conceptualizations of race and class.

Adries Stilte II
From Wiley’s commissioned show at the Columbus Museum of Art, which featured Columbus area subjects in the style of portraits from the museum’s permanent collection

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