What is cultural intelligence all about in this overcrowded nut-farm of a planet and hyped up Las Vegas roulette wheel of monetary games of an art-world? In politics and art perhaps it is about not begetting more pain with more pain and more conflict with shortsighted moves to appease angry constituents. There are great divides out there and what seems like insurmountable rifts. Take the situation of Confederate symbols and statues in the United States South and elsewhere such as Gettysburg souvenirs of gory conflict of long or not so long ago which was a nation’s gaping wound. Within an atmosphere laden with movements to just wash away history as if it never happened and other parties who try reconstruct a failed surge for glory at many others expense steps in a singular artist to offer a different solution…Kehinde Wiley “Rumors of War”
When Wiley’s “A New Republic” retrospective which began at the Brooklyn Museum in 2015 toured it stopped in Richmond, Virginia. Once there the artist was astounded by the city heavily overladen with the symbols of the old guard military brass of a now non-existent nation which still stood legislated as heroes in the sleepy former Capitol … It struck him that there needed to be for the African-American residents there and for all of history’s sake a representation on equal footing or in this case mounting for people who look like him and for indeed all history… Therein he convinced his host Virginia the Museum of Fine Arts director Alex Nyere ( who in turn convinced the museum’s board) to undertake the most expensive commission in the art institution’s history the triumphant “Rumors of War”
Wiley who is well known for taking scenes from European painting of resplendently attired aristocrats, kings, and warriors sometimes mounted upon gallant steeds and then transpose African American young men into them with elaborately detailed back-rounds rife with symbolism here created his first monumental public sculpture and largest work overall. Therein the city took a step forward to fuse a great divide and move together progressively into the future.
The work was created in collaboration with the Times Square Alliance from New York City and the art gallery which represents Wiley; the Sean Kelly Gallery… First, the work was placed and unveiled in Times Square for a multi-week stand. Once deployed there it was premiered with the help of a marching band and numerous speakers at the crossroads of the world…While there it struck this viewer as if lending this arena of lights a sudden new majestic classic resonance reminding one perhaps of the famed Marcus Aurelius equestrian statue on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. Moreover when cross-referenced with the billboards showing scenes such as the Beatles crossing Abbey Road it was also in moments pop symphonic. The work was then detached from its base and moved by truck to its permanent home in Richmond.
Being that this writer works right across from where the statue was initially placed in Times Square he took great notice endeavoring to pen its entry on a certain humungous online encyclopedia. Having missed the initial unveiling, as well as Art Basel Miami Beach for the fifth annum running he decided he would make haste and be present at its second and more permanent debut at Virginia’s public art museum which commissioned it though mostly raised from private sources. It was to be a mild and initially slightly rainy day and the museum was set up for a huge media splash… The speakers included Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia who had survived the is it him in the racist photo scandal, the African American mayor of Richmond, Levar Stoney, the director of the museum, the aforementioned Mr. Nyere, the museum’s board chairman who had raised the funds after the director had decided upon the commission, Wiley’s New York art dealer Sean Kelly and finally Wiley himself. Wiley was extraordinarily moving in his understanding of people in general and where the conversation begins as how we all begin to learn to live and grow with each other and how this was a necessary step not only for the growth of Richmond and Virginia and the south but the whole nation and indeed the world. When it then came time for the statue to be unveiled the tarp got stuck on the dreads of the human figure atop the horse and a series of persons were sent in to try and pry the fabric loses at risk of perhaps breaking off some more tender piece of bronze dreads which when you really think about it would not be as fragile as a twisted breadstick. First, they attempted this feat with a hook then the fire department sent up an officer who laddered his way up and motioned it loose and off in much greater proximity saving the day as it moved into the night as the ceremonies marching band played on.