Reconstructivist Art: Kehinde Wiley

Artist Kehinde Wiley as an example of Reconstructivist Art.

Adries Stilte II
From Wiley’s commissioned show at the Columbus Museum of Art, which featured Columbus area subjects in the style of portraits from the museum’s permanent collection

Wiley is an African American visual artist, known primarily for his lush, full-scale portraits of young urban African-American men in poses inspired by well-known paintings from the classical Western canon.  Here’s how his work matches against the four key elements of Reconstructivist Art.

  1. The Nod to Artifice: Although Wiley’s portraits include highly realistic figures, he is known for his highly stylized backgrounds which resemble ornamental wall coverings, and which sometimes interact with the figure in ways that emphasize the artificiality of the portrayal.
  2. A Classic Structure: As noted above, Wiley’s portraits are nearly always based directly on some established work of art from the Western canon.
  3. Transcontextual and/or Iconic Elements: Both the subjects of the portraits (young urban black men in contemporary dress), and the poses taken in the portraits (based on classic portraits from bygone centuries) are iconic elements transcontextualized to the timeless, placeless ornamental space in which Wiley works.
  4. Moments of Genuine Emotion or Significance: In making his juxtapositions, Wiley compels the viewer to look beyond ingrained conceptualizations of race and class.  In doing so, he shows us the common humanity linking his contemporary subjects with their medieval counterparts, and the universality of all human experience.