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Brooke’s Vantage Point: Meaningful Modern Art in Brooklyn: Exploring Kehinde Wiley

Willem van Heythuysen by Kehinde Wiley Photo by Brooke Ferber
Willem van Heythuysen by Kehinde Wiley

Photo by Brooke Ferber

By Brooke Ferber

Modern art takes a whole new meaning in the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic. Here, modern art transcends its simple, abstract reputation to a more profound, realistic quality with a modern message.

Wiley poses African-Americans in traditional Western works. He conveys the men and women with such extraordinary detail that the figures have the apparent realism of a photograph. This unique quality and style of painting are reputedly unusual of modern artists, thus warranting so much attention. The highlights and shadows Wiley creates with oil paint are remarkable: They have a precision seemingly paralleled only by the great artists of the Renaissance, which is distinctive because the scenes are modeled after traditional Western pieces of art.

As much as I appreciate Wiley’s technical skill, I am so much more impressed by his artistic intentions. Wiley symbolically poses African-American men and women in the portraits of the Old Masters to convey the invisibility of black men and women from our “cultural narratives.” The correspondence between this exhibit and the rise in Black Lives Matter protests is coincidentally quite precise.

The presentation of the exhibition was truly beautiful. Several of the paintings were accompanied by information that displayed an image of the Western painting that served as the inspiration. This allowed the viewer to more fully understand the symbolism behind the painting, as well as Wiley’s critical message. While the exhibit concluded on May 24, the Brooklyn Museum still holds several of Wiley’s works within its permanent collection, so it is definitely a worthwhile trip.

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