Afro-Brazilian Baroque


Afro-Brazilian Baroque
Gallery 330 – On View
Kehinde Wiley
American, born 1977


Kehinde Wiley
Santos-Dumont—The Father of Aviation II from “The World Stage: Brazil” series, 2009
Oil on canvas
Gift of funds from two anonymous donors 2010.99

The baroque paintings in this gallery appeal to our emotions by emphasizing the most dramatic moments in their narratives, and by welcoming viewers as participants. The large scale, realism, bright colors, and theatrical presentation of seventeenth-century European art grew out of the Catholic Church’s desire to regain the allegiance of those who had turned to Protestantism. But the paintings’ principles apply equally to subjects from ancient mythology. We become part of the story being enacted.

What is the story behind Kehinde Wiley’s painting? These fallen heroes are wearing contemporary clothing and, although they assume poses of the dead, they are looking directly at us. The artist’s point may be that young black men have rarely been depicted in such historically charged visual language.

Wiley finds his subjects on the streets of huge cities all over the world; these young men lived in Rio de Janeiro. While his earlier portraits were based on famous paintings in the history of art, here the inspiration—the base of a monument to pioneers of Brazilian aviation—is obscure. The challenge is not to identify the source, but to think about how the art of the past shapes how we see and think about the art and life of our own time.

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Interloper – or Illuminator? You Tell Us.

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