Remember all the buzz around President Barack Obama’s portrait, the one with the world leader seated within a colorful explosion of flowers?
Well, the painting’s artist, Kehinde Wiley, has two exuberant works on view at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. A hip-hop-influenced tapestry titled “Gypsy Fortune Teller” is part of the exhibition “Nomadic Murals: Contemporary Tapestries and Carpets,” running through Oct. 21. The museum also has on display a Wiley oil painting purchased earlier this year for its permanent collection. “Annoyed Radha With Her Friends,” with its Sri Lankan subjects, is an example of Wiley’s playful reimagining of old masters’ art styles, giving them a contemporary spin with people of color in place of European nobility and landed gentry.
Irvin Lippman, executive director of the museum, explains the acquisition “Annoyed Radha With Her Friends” in an email: “Shifting his attention to Asia from his roots in Nigeria and the racial profile of the black man in America for which Kenhide Wiley is best known, the painting depicts Radha in the background. Radha is acknowledged as the Supreme Goddess in Hinduism. Various devotees worship her with the understanding of her merciful nature as the only way to attain Krishna. It is believed that Krishna enchants the world, but Radha ‘enchants even Krishna.’ Kenhinde Wiley’s painting ‘Annoyed Radha With Her Friends’ depicts Radha in the background. Two young men appear in the foreground. The standing figure holds his hand up in the divine gesture (mudra) that urges patience, which is a virtue learned from Radha who is only ‘temporarily’ annoyed with Krishna. It is personal lesson and a civic lesson.”
Born in Los Angeles in 1977 (but now living in New York), Wiley is a Yale graduate and is listed in Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2018.” In the magazine, LL Cool J wrote: “Kehinde Wiley is a classically, formally trained artist who is transforming the way African Americans are seen — going against the grain of what the world is accustomed to. Some consider him irreverent; I see an iconoclast.”
In “Gypsy Fortune Teller,” Wiley shows African American men — sporting T-shirts, sneakers, sports jerseys and jeans — posed against a bed of flora and framed by birds in a nod to classic art. The tapestry bears Wiley’s signature use of vibrant colors.
Wiley writes on his website, KehindeWiley.com, about his work: “They’re assuming the poses of colonial masters, the former bosses of the Old World. Whenever I do photo shoots for paintings, I pull out a stack of books, whether it be something from the High Renaissance or the late French Rococo or the 19th century, it’s all thrown together in one big jumble.”
Lippman says that senior curator Kathy Goncharov conceived the “Nomadic Mural” exhibit as an opportunity to bring together tapestries by contemporary artists instead of old masters.
“Though an ancient medium, it has once again found its way into the popular oeuvre of artists who are intent on blurring the definition between what was once considered a ‘decorative art’ versus the ‘fine art’ of painting and sculpture,” Lippman writes in an email. “This exhibition follows ‘Glasstress’ [a previous exhibit] that looked at contemporary artists working in the medium of glass and our recent ceramics exhibition that brought together 16 artists who have newly redefined how to employ clay in ways that move it out of the realm of ‘craft.’ ”
“Nomadic Murals: Contemporary Tapestries and Carpets” is appearing through Oct. 21 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays; and noon-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $12 for adults; $10 for seniors (65 and over); $8 for adult group tour of 15 or more and free for museum members, children under 12, students with a valid ID and school groups (up to 60 students). For more information, call 561-392-2500, ext. 103 or go to BocaMuseum.org.