New York City.- The Jewish Museum will present “Kehinde Wiley/The World Stage: Israel”, from March 9th through July 29th. A new acquisition by the contemporary American artist Kehinde Wiley (born 1977, Los Angeles) served as impetus for the exhibition. The painting, Alios Itzhak (2011), is a nine-foot tall portrait of a young Jewish Ethiopian-Israeli man surrounded by an intricate decorative background inspired by a traditional Jewish papercut in the Museum’s collection. This work was acquired in honor of The Jewish Museum’s recently retired director Joan Rosenbaum. The exhibition features 14 large-scale paintings from Kehinde Wiley’s new World Stage: Israel series. The vibrant portraits of Israeli youths from diverse ethnic and religious affiliations are each embedded in a unique background influenced by Jewish ritual art. Also included are 10 works of Jewish ceremonial papercuts and large textiles chosen by the artist from The Jewish Museum’s collection. All of the 14 paintings on view are being displayed in New York for the first time.
The artist-designed and hand carved wooden frames created for World Stage: Israel paintings combine imagery of the Hands of Kohen (the blessing hands of a Kohen – a descendant of the high priest, Aaron) and the Lion of Judah (symbolizing power and majesty and often represented in symmetrical, confronting pairs of lions) each supporting a text in Hebrew. For Wiley’s Jewish subjects the text shown is the Ten Commandments; for his Arab Israeli subjects, the plea of Rodney King, victim of a 1991 police beating in Los Angeles that sparked race riots, “Can we all get along?” Wiley says his appropriated decorative backgrounds serve as catalysts for his paintings. The paintings represent a unique fusion of the orthodox with the secular and European traditions with those of North Africa and the Middle East. Roughly two-thirds of the portraits in the Israel series are of Ethiopian Jews, others are of Ashkenazi Jews and Arab Israelis. The artist is driven by an ongoing exploration of globalization, diasporas, cultural hybridity, and power. Saying he knows what it feels like to exist on the periphery, Wiley likes to catapult often powerless, anonymous young men of color onto enormous canvases and into the visual language of the powerful. The large size of the paintings reflects Wiley’s observation that scale has been used as a measure of historical importance throughout art history.
One of the most significant young artists working today, Kehinde Wiley is originally from Los Angeles and currently lives and works in Beijing, Dakar and New York. A gifted painter, he takes everyday people and paints them often larger than life-size in the grand poses of nobles, saints and colonial rulers from classical European portraiture. While the body language is borrowed from the past, the clothes are current and often hip-hop in style. The idea is to endow status on his young, urban subjects from carefully chosen spots around the globe. Rich tapestries of color and pattern form the bright and ornate backgrounds from which the young men posture. Patterns are found in the decorative traditions of each culture Wiley has chosen for his World Stage series. The fifth in the series, Israel, is close to completion with 14 of the 18 paintings in the set on view in The Jewish Museum’s exhibition. Prior sites for Wiley’s ambitious series have been China, Africa, Brazil and India. To find his subjects – almost always young, black and male – he goes to places the hip and young hang out. For “The World Stage: Israel”, Wiley scouted in discos, malls, bars and sporting venues in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in 2010. He formally poses the young men and photographs them. The result forms the basis for his paintings. A nine-minute video in the exhibition shows Wiley in marketplaces, homes and public arenas of Israel’s two largest cities finding the faces and figures that will become his subjects. Kehinde Wiley was born in Los Angeles, received a BFA from San Francisco Art Institute in 1999, and a MFA from Yale University in 2001. His paintings are in the collections of over forty museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Hammer Museum; High Museum; Walker Art Center; Brooklyn Museum; and The Jewish Museum, New York, to name a few. Selected exhibitions include The National Portrait Gallery, Brooklyn Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and Columbus Museum of Art, among others. His work has been the subject of eight monographs to date, with a forthcoming Rizzoli publication scheduled for release in March.
The Jewish Museum, one of the world’s largest and most important institutions devoted to exploring the remarkable scope and diversity of Jewish culture, was founded in 1904 in the library of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where it was housed for more than four decades. In 1944, Frieda Schiff Warburg, widow of the prominent businessman and philanthropist, Felix Warburg, who had been a Seminary trustee, donated the family mansion at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street to the Seminary for use as the Museum. Located along New York’s Museum Mile, this elegant former residence has been the home of the Museum since 1947. A sculpture court was installed alongside the Mansion in 1959, and the Albert A. List Building was added in 1963 to provide additional exhibition and program space. In 1989, a major expansion and renovation project was undertaken. Upon completion in June 1993, the expansion doubled the Museum’s gallery space, created new space for educational programs, provided significant improvements in public amenities, and added a two-floor permanent exhibition called Culture and Continuity: The Jewish Journey . The expanded Jewish Museum preserves the French Gothic chateau-style exterior of the original Warburg Mansion, which was designed by architect Charles P.H. Gilbert and completed in 1908. Judge Mayer Sulzberger donated the first gift of 26 objects of fine and ceremonial art to the library of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America with the suggestion that a Jewish museum be formed. Subsequent gifts and purchases have helped to form the Museum’s distinguished collection and develop the concept of the institution, whose mission has been to preserve, study and interpret Jewish cultural history through the use of authentic art and artifacts, linking both Jews and non-Jews to a rich body of values and traditions.
Today, The Jewish Museum’s permanent collection, which has grown to more than 26,000 objects — paintings, sculpture, works on paper, photographs, ethnographic material, archaeological artifacts, numismatics, ceremonial objects, and broadcast media materials — is the largest and most important of its kind in the world. The Jewish Museum regularly presents large temporary exhibitions of an interdisciplinary nature. Such exhibitions often employ a combination of art and artifacts interpreted through the lens of social history in order to explore important ideas and topics. The Museum’s highly successful The Dreyfus Affair: Art, Truth and Justice (1987), Gardens and Ghettos: The Art of Jewish Life in Italy (1989), From Court Jews to the Rothschilds: Art, Patronage and Power 1600-1800 (1996), ASSIGNMENT: RESCUE, The Story of Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee (1997) and Berlin Metropolis: Jews and the New Culture 1890-1918 (1999) are examples of this type of exhibition. The Museum is also known for its exhibitions of fine arts interpreted in the context of social history, such as Painting a Place in America: Jewish Artists in New York, 1900-1945 (1991) ; social history exhibitions such as Bridges and Boundaries: African Americans and American Jews (1992); and monograph shows of significant artists such as Camille Pissarro (1995), Marc Chagall (1996), Chaim Soutine (1998) and George Segal (1998). The Museum also regularly presents the works of contemporary artists in group exhibitions such as Too Jewish? Challenging Traditional Identities (1996) and one-person shows like Bordering on Fiction: Chantal Akerman’s “D’Est” (1997). Its education department presents a diverse and wide-ranging array of programs for individuals, groups, families and schools. For nearly a century, The Jewish Museum has illuminated the Jewish experience, both secular and religious, demonstrating the strength of Jewish identity and culture. Its unparalleled collection and unique exhibitions offer a wide range of opportunities for exploring multiple facets of the Jewish experience, past and present, and for educating current and future generations. It is a source of education, inspiration and shared human values for people of all cultures. Visit the museum’s website at … http://www.thejewishmuseum.org