Giant Kehinde Wiley Wallscape in Manhattan to Promote Jewish Museum
The Jewish Museum, in conjunction with the opening of its exhibition, Kehinde Wiley/The World Stage: Israel, is trying something new. Its advertising agency, Our Man In Havana (OMIH), has conceived and is overseeing a hand-painted reproduction of a Kehinde Wiley painting as a giant wallscape on the northeast corner of Houston Street and Mott Street in Manhattan. A video documenting the installation will also be created and released online to generate additional awareness for the exhibition.
The 20' x 35' wallscape is being painted over the course of this week by three artists from Overall Murals - a Brooklyn-based company whose other clients include the Whitney Museum of American Art and the New Museum. The wallscape will remain on view through May 23, 2012.
The image used will be of a 2011 painting in the exhibition entitled Alios Itzhak. The original painting 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. In addition, the wallscape will include the exhibition title, dates, and The Jewish Museum's street and web addresses.
"One of the most striking aspects of Wiley's paintings is their sheer scale. We were looking for a creative execution that telegraphed the majesty of these vibrant, intricately-detailed portraits" said Ahron Weiner, Managing Director of OMIH. "Our thirty five-foot tall hand-painted wallscape is designed to amplify the power and emotional impact of Wiley's art, and raise awareness and interest among contemporary art enthusiasts over its three month run."
The Wiley wallscape is being painted using a combination of modern technology and old-world techniques. To scale the art up from its original size, the image is projected onto a giant wall at final size, and every line in the image is traced onto sheets of paper using a machine that 'pounces' a series of small holes to create a stencil of the image. The painters bring these stencils to the site, use a bag of charcoal to transfer the lines from the paper stencils onto the wallscape, and then use these lines as guides to accurately recreate the original image. This technique of pouncing stencils and charcoal transfer has been used by artists as far back as the Renaissance - including Michelangelo and Raphael.
Kehinde Wiley/The World Stage: Israel will be on view at The Jewish Museum from March 9 through July 29, 2012. The exhibition features 14 large-scale paintings from the contemporary American painter Kehinde Wiley's newest series, The World Stage: Israel. The vibrant portraits of Israeli youths from diverse ethnic and religious affiliations are each embedded in a unique background influenced by Jewish ceremonial art. Also included are 11 works - papercuts and large textiles - chosen by the artist from The Jewish Museum's collection. Wiley chose to display these works of ceremonial art alongside his paintings to create a dynamic interchange between the contemporary and the traditional. All the 14 paintings on view are being displayed in New York for the first time.
Wiley says his appropriated decorative backgrounds serve as catalysts for his paintings. The paintings represent a fusion of contemporary culture with European traditions and 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 native-born Jews and Arab Israelis. The artist is driven by an ongoing exploration of globalization, diasporas, culture 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.
The hand-carved wooden frames are crowned with emblems borrowed from Jewish decorative tradition: the hands of a Kohen (priest) and the Lion of Judah, symbolizing blessing, power, and majesty. Each supports a text: for the portraits of Jewish men the Ten Commandments are used. For the portraits of Arab men, Wiley shoes the plea of Rodney King, victim of a police beating that sparked race riots in the artist's home city of Los Angles in 1991: "Can we all get along?"
Kehinde Wiley currently lives and works in Beijing, Dakar and New York.