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"Kehinde Wiley: Rumors of War" (On Permanent Display) Virginia Museum of Fine Art


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Press release for Rumors of War

"First unveiled in Times Square, New York on Sept. 27, 2019 as a partnership between Times Square Arts, Sean Kelly Gallery and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), Rumors of War is Wiley’s first monumental public sculpture and largest work-to-date, continuing the artist’s career-long investigation into the politics of representation, race, gender and power.

Mounted proudly on its large stone pedestal, Rumors of War is the artist’s direct response to the ubiquitous Confederate sculptures that populate the United States, particularly in the American South. Standing at just under three stories tall, Wiley’s sculpture depicts a young, African American figure dressed in urban streetwear and sitting astride a massive horse in a striking pose based on the equestrian monument to Confederate States Army general James Ewell Brown “J.E.B.” Stuart on Richmond’s Monument Avenue.

The work was inspired when Wiley was visiting Richmond for the opening of his retrospective exhibition, Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic, at VMFA in June 2016. After encountering the city’s Confederate monuments, the artist felt compelled to extend his stay to study and reflect upon the sculptures and their legacy.

Kehinde Wiley states, “The inspiration for Rumors of War is war—is an engagement with violence. Art and violence have for an eternity held a strong narrative grip with each other. Rumors of War attempts to use the language of equestrian portraiture to both embrace and subsume the fetishization of state violence. Rumors of War is also about openness, about a new America. I am honored to have Rumors of War in Richmond, in a context which is consequential on a level that goes well beyond museum walls, exposing the beautiful and terrible potentiality of art to sculpt the language of domination.”

Rumors of War encourages visitors to consider broader perspectives on traditional narratives of heroism and representation in American history, culture and with national monuments. In the early 2000s, Wiley created a series of paintings entitled Rumors of War, which explored a repositioning of the iconography of wealth and warfare in historical paintings. The largescale works in this series anachronistically replaced the traditionally white, aristocratic subjects typical of the genre with young, African American men in street clothes.

VMFA Director and CEO Alex Nyerges states, “This is a historic moment for us all. It is a moment that’s not just for the museum, not just for Richmond, not just for Virginia, and not just for the United States of America, but for all people. As we think about the inspiration that art brings to the world, where art can change our lives, and how art can make the world as we know it better today and for tomorrow, few people have been able to capture these possibilities as well as Kehinde Wiley with the unveiling of Rumors or War. We are proud to be its permanent home.

Wiley is perhaps best known for his portrait of President Barack Obama and his vibrant portrayals of contemporary African American and African-Diasporic individuals that subvert the hierarchies and conventions of European and American portraiture. Seeking to challenge the lack of representation of black and brown men and women in our dominant visual, historical, and cultural narratives, Wiley’s subjects have ranged from street-cast individuals that the artist encountered while traveling around the world to many of the most important and well-renowned African-American cultural and political figures of our generation, including The Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, Michael Jackson, Carrie Mae Weems and President Barack Obama.

Sean Kelly states, “In his work, Kehinde has consistently addressed the historical imbalance of the representation of the depiction of the black body in cultural and art historical context. At the same time, he has virtually singlehandedly reinvigorated and reimagined the genres of figurative painting and traditional portraiture for the 21st century. Without question, Kehinde Wiley is amongst the most influential, provocative and compelling artists of our time."

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