Kehinde Wiley: Rumors of War | The Art Scene

Kehinde Wiley: Rumors of War | The Art Scene


(street noise) It’s the largest sculpture
he’s ever made. It’s obviously exciting
it’s going to be here in Time Square
in the heart of New York. But we’re particularly excited that it’s going to
come to Richmond, which is really where
the whole project started. We’ve been longtime
supporters of Kehinde Wiley, purchasing the painting
very early on in his career, and so when his exhibition,
A New Republic, was touring we knew
we wanted to sign up to that. So we brought
the exhibition here, Kehinde came for the opening
and all the festivities. He comes here we thought
for just one day, do a lecture, leave the next day.
He picks up the phone, starts calling his brother
and his friends in New York and they descended
upon Richmond for a week. And then a little more
than a year ago, Sean Kelly calls up and says Kehinde’s come up
with this idea. The story starts with going
to Virginia of course and seeing the monuments
that line the streets. I’m a Black man
walking those streets, I’m looking up at those things that give me a sense of dread
and fear, what does that
feel like physically to walk a public space
and to have the work state, your country, your nation say
this is what we stand by? No. We want more. We demand more.
We creative people create more. Look at this crowd. This diverse crowd
of individuals that have come out to see the most important acquisition
that this museum has ever made. And I may add it was
a unanimous decision. We are proud and honored
to be the future home of this significant inspiring
contribution to our public art and our public discourse. And without further ado I think it’s time
to unveil something. Rumors of War
ladies and gentlemen. Rumors of War. We come from a
beautiful fractured sometimes terrible past.
But I think the job of artists is to be able to take
all of those myriad pieces, to be able to imagine them
coming back together to be able to look yourself,
you, your black body, you, your female body,
you, your trans body, whoever you happen to be
to be able to see yourself in this place
that we call America. We like to work with artists
who are very intelligent, who are sort of coloring
outside the lines and being provocative
or political with a small p. And I think that Kehinde’s work
has always done that. Kehinde Wiley really comes
on the contemporary scene in the 2000s. And what he was doing
which was very interesting was looking at European classics
of the 1800s, the 1700s and understanding that
they were iconography of power, they were about status and
when and where the Black body enters into that conversation. And he began to really look
at those frames and replacing White subject
matters with Black subjects. Kehinde Wiley is
clearly the hottest, most popular visual arts star, not just in the country,
but in the world. Such a fabulous artist,
a painter, a sculptor, he also was relevant. He really was enamored
with our monument avenue. He was enamored with how
power and status are framed differently than
the two dimensional. What came of that
was a new framework, a new idea of how to speak, taking what he knew
from paintings and the sort of classical
frameworks of painting and transposing that into
the three-dimensional object, which is sculpture. It obviously appropriates
the imagery from the Jeb Stuart monument
with the exception that General Stuart’s
not sitting on top of the horse, but a young Black person. And, of course, with Kehinde
he’s made his mark being able to take young people
of color, men and women, and put them in positions of authority,
beauty, power, majesty that we literally
in this case can look up to, because it is so massive, I mean,
the pedestal is 16 feet tall, so you have no choice
but to look up in the sky. And that’s important. With the creation
of this monumental sculpture he is changing the conversation
about something we are all talking
about all the time, which is the monuments
to the dead Civil War heroes. What has been a part of the
conversation is a very binary, do we keep them up,
do we take them down? How do you shift
that conversation with just one object?
And Kehinde Wiley does it, he does it
in a very eloquent way, he does it
in a very poignant way. To quote the monument
that is on Monument Avenue and to affix a Black subject
matter within its framework shifts the conversation. And it shifts the gravitational
pull from Monument Avenue to some other place. And when you have that balance, then you can talk
very differently. Is it monumental?
Absolutely. Monumental in pure size,
monumental in beauty, but it’s also monumental
in the message that it gives, because it says
that a Black man, a Black woman, can be displayed in
regal splendor on a horse in the capital
of the confederacy and we will appreciate that. December 10th we’re
going to unveil it. It will sit in a grassy area
between our two drives that come in off of
Arthur Ashe Boulevard. And it’s massive. And we’re going to make it
a celebration, because we think
it’s a new day for Virginia. We think it’s a new day
for conversation about the Civil War
and Civil War monuments. And quite frankly it’s
a beautiful work of art. I hope everybody will see it as a really significant
substantial statement that talks about the future and it talks about how exciting
the City of Richmond is, how forward thinking it is now and that everybody
can rally around that and it can be
a really positive moment. Kehinde Wiley came
to Richmond three years ago, saw Monument Avenue and he through a grand
majestic work of art is changing
the conversation today. There’s moments where art
has to step in. And today we say, yes,
to something that looks like us. We say yes to inclusivity. We say yes to broader notions of
what it means to be an American. A call that says
this is my America too.

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