Thursday, February 07, 2008

Recognize opens at the National Portrait Gallery this Friday, February 8th. The show features graffiti by Tim Conlon--whom you can see currently in our Tiffany gallery at the AAC. Also featured are paintings by Kehinde Wiley, and three videos by my friend and former colleague, Jefferson Pinder. (I had the pleasure of working with Jefferson on a collaborative project at Flashpoint back in 2006, before he joined the stable at G Fine Art.)

Wiley will be represented by his Hip Hop Honors paintings, which show rap artists in, surprise, surprise, poses lifted from old master paintings--like, for example, Ice T as Napoleon in a painting by Ingres.

These aren't nearly as thorny as his World Stage series, which, in a show last year, presented young African American men in poses from Maoist propaganda posters--in paintings generated by a crew of Chinese art students. As far as I'm concerned, that's a much more clever bit of game playing and positioning...although most of the reactions I've read to these pieces tend to emphasize the ethical implications of using a Chinese atelier. Take Barbara Pollack in AiA last March:

I am highly uncomfortable witnessing massive work-team production of art whether I am in the studio of Zhang Xiaogang or Jeff Koons. Of course, that's an entirely old-fashioned attitude, since so many artists internationally now play the role of production supervisors, rather than hands-on craftspeople. It only makes sense, therefore, for artists to go to wherever it is easiest and cheapest for them to produce their works. I have not seen Wim Delvoye's studio in Beijing, but I did visit Kehinde Wiley's, where scores of Chinese art students were filling in the blanks on 20 canvases at a time. It was pretty funny, given his imagery.
Frankly, I think Wiley's paintings are more compelling if he's not physically painting them--although they're obviously not about painting at that point; they just happen to be paintings. This makes sense, since it's never been clear that Wiley's all that interested in the properties of oil paint, anyway: As I've said before, no matter who's painting them, his pictures tend to be flat, opaque, and illustrational, more like cartoons or graphic art than the traditional oils from which he appropriates poses and arrangements.


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