If you’re looking for a very generous review of the Kehinde Wiley exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, read Roberta Smith. If you’re looking for one that’s startlingly homophobic and racist, read Jessica Dawson. The latter piece, in the Village Voice, is truly one of the most bizarre and poor excuses for art criticism I’ve read in a very long time.
Dawson doesn’t lay out her suspect thesis (if you can call it that) until the review’s third paragraph: Kehinde Wiley’s work, she writes, is “predatory behavior dressed up as art-historical affirmative action.” She goes on to call the subjects of his portraits “targets” and mention “the more lurid implications of the 38-year-old artist’s production.”
Surely calling someone predatory is a serious allegation, one that should be backed up by something like proof, or at the very least a rock solid argument. What is Dawson’s argument for Wiley’s “predatory behavior”?
Well, as you might have guessed, it’s not entirely clear. It seems to have to do with the fact that the male subjects in Wiley’s paintings are sexualized — an immediate red flag given the long, ugly history in this country of gay men being labeled sexual predators.
Here’s Dawson laying out her “logic”:
And then there is Wiley’s casting-couch method. In the early 2000s, after he graduated from Yale, Wiley did a residency at the Studio Museum and began inviting men he met on the streets into his studio to pose. “When I’m approaching these guys, there’s a presupposed engagement,” Wiley said in the 2008 Art Newspaper interview. “I don’t ask people what their sexualities are, but there’s a sense in which male beauty is being negotiated.”
Once in the studio, Wiley presents his model with art-history books and asks him to choose which painting he’d like to be in. Straining to legitimize this method, Brooklyn Museum curator Eugenie Tsai lauds the artist in the exhibition catalog for “the subject’s active participation” in a “collaborative encounter … co-produced by the subject and the artist.”
So, is Wiley predatory because he invites men whom he meets on the street into his studio — a perfectly legitimate and widespread artistic practice?
What Wiley and his subjects do behind the scenes may be none of our business, but his paintings kiss and tell. Saint Andrew grinds his crotch against a wooden cross, and in case we don’t quite get it, Wiley has painted free-floating spermatozoa across the canvas. The same goes for the bear of a fellow in Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps, which could be subtitled “(Through a Light Ejaculate Mist).”
Is he predatory because he paints his subjects in a sexualized manner? Because he’s also a man, painting them in a sexualized manner? Because they might even have sex? How is any of this not homophobic?
In what world is a Yale-minted artist who lures young men into his studio with the promise of power and glamour not predatory? These aren’t portraits. They’re types — to the point where the majority of his titles reflect only the identity of the original sitter; his models remain anonymous.
Beyond my doubts that Dawson has any real clue about what Wiley offers his subjects, I’d argue that she’s just plain wrong here. Does Wiley give his models a pass to Yale? No. But he does offer them the not-insignificant power of choosing how they will be represented, and he certainly gives them glamour.
Clearly, there is something about the sexualization of black men that offends or frightens Dawson. From the vagueness of her writing and the broadness of her generalizations, it’s hard to tell if it’s the “sexualization” or the “black men” part. Her writing about the central premise of Wiley’s work — to insert ordinary black people into paintings that mimic the grandeur of historical, and historically white, portraits — is just as problematic and offensive as the aspersions she casts on his process. Consider:
Where once was a powerful white man, Wiley inserts a firm piece of African-American flesh. Where white power aggrandized itself in official state portraiture, now young blacks from the ghetto, the ones newspaper headlines insist are without future and en route to incarceration, straddle stallions. What does it mean to put a young black man on a horse and call him Napoleon? If it isn’t dangling a fantasy and false hope, then at least it implies that young urban blacks are in desperate need of uplift. You call that empowerment?
It’s almost hard to know where to start unpacking a passage so brimming with barely veiled racism! First, we have the reduction of African Americans to their sexualized bodies (“a firm piece of African-American flesh”). Second, the assumption that all the subjects come “from the ghetto,” because, you know, they wear sneakers and Wiley found them on the street. Third, the connotation that all those “newspaper headlines” are being so dramatic by insisting that this country has a major problem with mass incarceration. And then there’s the kicker: the assertion that it is a “fantasy and false hope” to suggest that young black men should aspire to, let alone might ever achieve, positions of power. Wow.
I mean, look, I hardly think Kehinde Wiley is beyond reproach. I’ve written critically about him before, and others have written critically about this show. But there’s a difference between breaking down what works or doesn’t about his art and arguing that he’s a “predator” based on your own prejudiced reactions to that art.
That Dawson not only wrote this, but that Village Voice editors saw fit to publish it, makes it an urgent example of why journalism needs to diversify — badly and soon.
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Ms Dawson is using a feminist bias in trying to understand the relationship between a gay male artist and his male model. Hers is a very narrow view in which every human relationship is viewed through a male as predator lens. She is unable to understand that male artist and male model relationships feel very different.
I just think she’s dumb.
I don’t think she’s dumb but this appears to be a blind spot.
I think she misunderstands the context of queer sexuality here.
That’s not a feminist bias. She brings no feminism into the article at all. What she’s using is just white privilege coupled with homophobia and wrapped in elitist snobbery.
It’s not feminists who peg black men as predators, that’s an old racist chestnut that knows no gender or philosophical barriers. Also, while she does bring up the men, and this article focusses on them, there are women in his portraits (and she includes one of them in her own article).
She’s assuming that inviting men in to be painted is the same dynamic as luring women in on the pretext of being an artist model and exploited for sex. That’s where the feminist bias is. It’s not the same power dynamic or the same dynamic at all.
First, I’m not sure at all that you can make assumptions on her assumptions based on the critique she wrote. There’s just not enough in there about the female-to-male model comparison and analysis to back that up.
And if this were a feminist critique, it would no doubt salute the artist’s attempt to underline that exploitive narrative in art, whether she liked the results or not.
Her assumption on the luring of young men is based on the dangers of the homosexual “chickenhawk,” luring naive boys into his grasp. And this requires nothing at all from feminism to claim. IMHO, she’d have to connect the dots between chickenhawks and patriarchal artists preying on women to make this about feminism.
I guess all of reading is an assumption since we can’t get in anyone’s head but there are plenty of clues. For instance when making the comparison she compared it to a “casting couch” not a “chicken hawk” the former is much more male female feminist analogy and dynamic than a gay one. Other people picked up on that vibe and so did I.
This is not a critique of feminism imo just what happens when someone trys to apply what they “know” to something that they think looks familiar.
One thing is for sure this type of critique of black gay person is going to be suspect at the very least among many black and gay people as another example in a long line of “misunderstandings” be they white, feminist or whatever that always seems to end at our disadvantage.
Well, the term “casting couch” didn’t originate in feminism, but rather in hollywood and it involved both male and female actors’ accusations of what was required.
I agree with you about what happens with this type of critique. It doesn’t have to even be intentional. I don’t think she meant to offend. It’s just an observable bias that does indeed prick at the communities involved.
I’m not sure how where it originated has anything to do with it. What I was commenting on was that it’s a male/female dynamic more likely to be used in a feminist critique than a gay one. It just doesn’t apply here. simply replace the words chickenhawk with casting couch and it shifts the perspective.
The more I look at this the more it seems it’s an attempt to apply the male gaze gone horribly awry.
It’s too bad in a way because she’s getting hammered for being a hateful racist and I’m just not getting that vibe. Although I think misguided projections and subconscious assumptions are far more dangerous today than hate mongers I don’t think we’re dealing with a lost cause. Personally I wouldn’t dismis her as hopeless because of what she said here.
I see what you mean, but regardless of the male female dynamic under discussion, there’s no actual feminist theory or approach in the critique, and that’s what I’m focussed on as per this thread.
Sometimes people get a bit carried away with seeing racial bias or privilege as racism (which, I confess it likely is within certain definitions) and end up painting everybody with the same brush. She’s not the KKK, just an art critic who hasn’t worked out an understanding of other ethnicities. For that reason, she should probably not attempt to discuss them in print.
Without answering the article – I think I’d like to read the whole article first rather than what the author has cherry picked although the last extract is bizarre – so am just speaking to the comments.
There seems to me to be a strange double standard here. I have no doubt that luring young men into his studio to paint/seduce them may be fine for some but not for others. Don’t we all know plenty of young men, gay or straight, who have been taken advantage of – and feel that they were taken advantage of – by older more powerful men???
Sometimes the predatory male is straight and sometimes he’s gay. Sometimes, less often by a lot, the predator is female. Sometimes the prey is male and sometimes female. And sometimes everyone is on the same page and enjoying the game. I think this assumption of a gay dynamic is bizarre – that isn’t to say that I am denying that such exists but I am questioning the assumption that every young man that Mr. Wiley meets knows about it…
Yet, ofCanada, if I understand what I read in this article, as well as those of Roberta Smith and Jessica Dawson, there are women in Mr. Wiley’s portraits BECAUSE his new gallerist, Sean Kelly, thought he should branch out. That being the case, it might be something other than a racist chestnut that the work for which the artist first gained great acclaim and reward came from his approaching young men to whom he felt attracted. Read the articles to which this one links, as well as the article by Deborah Solomon which is linked to Ms. Smith’s. You seem to have a grasp of the terminology to analyze the potential or appearance of racism, sexism, homophobia. Given that these are serious issues that conscientious people among us long to solve, I beseech you to look a little deeper and further before judging.
The racist chestnut is not that black men prey on black men. The racist chestnut is that black men prey sexually on the naive and that relationships with them are (“must be”) based on their sexual prowess, power or size, rather than any legitimate relationship between him and his partner.
My comment regarding the women in his portraits was that she ignored them in her assessment of him as a gay male predator. They are beautifully rendered, as well, but that doesn’t alter her opinion that beautifully rendered men are a “kiss and tell” sign of predation. This says to me that she was not using a feminist approach when judging him, but rather a homophobic one to accuse him of having preyed on his male models.
My comment in this thread is not focussed on judging her (although I do in other threads, but not as an art critic, rather as somebody unable to see past her bias when discussing issues of race and—at least male—homosexuality). I tend to stay on point in discussions and in this thread we are debating the premise that her approach is feminist.
I don’t see feminist theory expressed in her critique, and the points raised that say she is using them have not sufficiently proven she does. I’m not saying she is not a feminist, but merely that she is not using feminism to analyze this work in this critique.
I’m one of those conscientious people you mention, by the way. And the ability to discuss this critique is part of getting to the heart of these serious issues.
Because she singles out his male portraits, because she underlines as many ways as possible the luridness of graphic sexual imagery she sees in them, and also because she does not delve into the matter enough, her accusations stand among the multitude of anti-gay male propaganda statements that constantly streams by out there.
If she wanted to separate from that noise, she really needed a more thorough review, one that didn’t skim the surface and so easily fit with the established-man-preying-on-boys stereotype.
Thoughtful and well argued. Thank you.
She has to go back to years of years of artists falling in love with their models…. In a platonic way or not… who cares…. artist don’t need to be model citizens nor are in debt to make politically correct art… wtf
Racism and homophobia has nothing to do with feminism. She’s just a racist, homophobic bigot.
As a feminist curator, I don’t see any feminist bias at all – don’t give her that label because she is a woman. Her writings indicate she’s a racist, homophobic person.
And you are viewing her through a lens that views all feminists as somehow “against” men.
Where did ms. Dawson go to school? Sometimes when one gets it wrong, it’s so wrong it’s absurd.
She’s well educated in art. Where she appears to fall down is in race relations and homophobia.
Yhea as a black guy it’s really hard to understand what her point is or where this is coming from. I thiink the poster who said she’s trying to make sense of something completely outside of her ability to understand is right. I could almost forgive that if it wasn’t for the fact that the level of speculation it takes to assume come to these conclusions is complete journalistic incompetence.
Here I find two issues. I tried to find an image of a St. Andrew “grinding his crotch against a cross,” which you claimed it would be a safe bet to find. There did not seem to be one. Then I looked up Mr. Wiley’s image and his model did not seem to be grinding his crotch against the cross, either. What is the interplay between what we expect and what we find? Whose prejudices and expectations are we to respect, and whose do we condemn?
Clearly she doesn’t know her art history. If she believes Wiley is posing these people in provactive poses she should view the original paintings that Wiley uses as inspiration . If a man is grinding his crotch against a cross in Wiley’s depiction of St Andrew, then it’s a safe bet the original painting the man holding the cross also appeared to be grinding his crotch against it. And this homophobic woman is writing for the Village Voice?! My things have changed I guess. If you’re going to critique art know some of the history lady, and be familiar with artist practices and techniques. What is strange to you may be common place and innocent. Clearly she would have one to call for fig leads in the Sistine chapel.A disgrace and dishonor to art critics.
Please see my reply to thelaister mistakenly posted above.
Whaa?!? Has the writer even looked at his work? I don’t even recognize this blah blah.
I don’t think that Dawson’s review is racist, and it’s unhelpful to throw that inflammatory label around.
I think Dawson’s point is simple: she’s critiquing the inflated language used to promote Wiley’s painting, that states that Wiley’s art somehow “empowers” his subjects. For Dawson, the art isn’t that different in terms of power relationships from that of the old white male painters and their female models.
You may not agree, and the art has plenty of other qualities to recommend it, but it’s a legitimate argument.
To sling accusations of racism is fashionable these days, but only serves to shut down dialog in a fog of political correctness.
Not as fashionable as saying it is “critiquing” rather than calling it what it is.
Very coincidentally it’s kind of like how you’re attempting to shut down the discussion of racism here by stating that even mentioning the term “racism” is shutting down dialog. If it’s not clear to you what people mean or what the context is, than ask. If you have a clear counter-argument then state it. Simply stating that we can’t talk about something because it “shuts down dialog” /IS/ shutting down the very dialog we’re having. So your logic is not only flawed, it’s exquisitely ridiculous.
It’s a lot more unhelpful to shut down dialog about Racism, however. Which is what you’re trying to do here.
I’m surprised you didn’t include the phrase “I don’t know why they’re making such a fuss.”
Look, when you throw a term like “racist” into the mix, it’s a bit like saying “fascist” or “Nazi”, and should be reserved for those who clearly cannot see beyond racial generalizations, hardly the case here.
Furthermore, you’ve branded the person in such a way that it’s harder to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their argument.
Someone might be insensitive to your particular concerns, which might be legitimate. But in that case, take the time to make the argument, without the name-calling.
“…now young blacks from the ghetto, the ones newspaper headlines insist are without future and en route to incarceration, straddle stallions.”
Sure. No racial generalization here.
That’s obviously an exaggerated statement, intended to sarcastically point out shitty media coverage that’s already generalizing black men. She’s also using this to point out one of the positions from which Wiley is operating — using that point of view and assumption about black men is part of what lent content to his juxtaposition of these black men in traditional European portraiture setups before he beat that horse to death. His whole career started with the idea of street culture/swag culture/ disenfranchised black bodies being placed in historical depictions of white power… but in order for the paintings to operate with that critique, one must approach them with the understanding of America’s stereotyped associations that come with black bodies. She’s not generalizing by way of her own judgement — she’s just describing.
But niknikky, that is what we read in the newspapers….the writer is not making this up. We all need to be clear on what is going on in our world in order to be able to figure out how we can make it better for each other. Edward Ball writing in the New York Times today said that 95% of arrests in Ferguson, Missouri, are of black persons. If we accept that statistic–which comes from the newly released report from the federal Department of Justice, headed by the renowned Eric Holder of African American heritage, surely we must not make a knee jerk response to this piece of descriptive writing. If young black men are disproportionally represented in the ranks of the arrested, convicted, and imprisoned, as the newspapers report, their casting as historical figures should raise serious questions for those of us who care about the world we live in and earnestly desire improvement.
No she’s not a card a card carrying kkk member type racist. But the more subtle act of assuming what’s approriate for blacks and latent feelings about what black peoples motivations and what we are really capable of is currently the most prevelant and damaging form of discrimination. She in no uncertain terms called him a predator, with no supporting facts I might add. I don’t see her calling out David Hockney or Andy Warhol. (He drew beautiful men too) Clearly there are some raci…. Let’s call them latent unexamined feelings.
Oh, but please, mr. white man. Tell us more about what racism is and how much of it exists and how we should be much more careful about calling out racism because it might hurt the feels of white folks.
I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who didn’t find the review to be completely racist. I mean, there are lines in there that were apparently written poorly, or perhaps didn’t convey some sort of intended sense of irony or hyperbolic snark, but taken on the whole, I don’t think from this article you could label her a racist.
I’m gay, and didn’t really find this to be all that homophobic either. That calling Wiley’s practice predatory relates to gay men being labeled as pedophiles never even crossed my mind until I read the spin here. His practice IS predatory, and yes, while he gives the models some modicum of control and power, as you see in the documentary he made about the series of female portraits he did, Wiley still holds all the power in that relationship. He preys on people he finds on the street, pays them a small fee, and turns their likeness into a product to which they have no further claim of ownership which he will then sell for tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars — the balance of power in that transaction is SO skewed, it’s impossible for him to be anything but predatory. And that certainly may be true for just about any artist who peddles in portraiture to some extent.
Calling the writer a racist homophobe and only talking about that DOES shut down the argument she’s making, that the work is more illustrative of Wiley’s own position and concept of moneyed success and position of power and is more explicitly rapacious than it is uplifting, the way the material is being presented. The work and practice can concern itself with homoeroticism, race and class struggles, and exploitation all at the same time — I don’t find it homophobic to point that out. I don’t think she wrote it particularly well though: the bit implying that he fucks the models is a bit much. But the article in no way extols the idea that the black race is in any way inferior, and it doesn’t read as hateful or intolerant unless you want it to. There are problematic passages, but what’s more problematic is Wiley’s boring repetitive work getting another museum show without any deeper inquisition into what it means to do what he’s doing and to preface it only with the idea that he’s offering some form of representational empowerment. You wouldn’t even have written this article or read hers if it wasn’t for that seventh paragraph — the wording is inflammatory, but the point she’s making is valid.
(Also, if you are THE Steve Mumford who went to Iraq, I gotta say, I love your watercolors.)
No problem! I just came across your work a few days ago and just earlier this week found myself a copy of the book you put out with Drawn & Quarterly because I couldn’t find enough good images on the internet to satiate my interest. It’s oddly serendipitous to run into you on a comments section lol.
I agree with you Crispy, calling the Dawson article racist is totally off the point.
It seems more like political debate. Choosing a weak point from your opponent and fire at it. But ignore the subject you are discussing.
It’s unhelpful “to throw that inflamatory label around” to whom? You must be speaking for yourself, because you are not speaking for me. Racism to you may be a simple “inflamatory label.” To oppressed people, however, if I dare speak for them, it is a negative and pervasive power relationship, often played out in language, art, politics, finance, career, perception, education, etc. Yes, educated art critics can be racists too. This whole fat, uneducated, Southern white male platitude is so cliche.
You, in a not so subtle manner, seek to silence people who bring up race… by implying they stifle debate… and thereby suggest that they should stifle their critiques because it “shuts down dialog”. Aren’t you, stifing debate yourself? Oh wait.. You have that right, whereas oppressed minorities don’t. I guess that’s just how privilege works, right? If you’re so perceptive, you should be able to see the circularity in your argument. Unless, it doesn’t apply to you. If not, why would that be?
Perhaps it’s an issues of semantics, but where I come from – the mean streets of Cambridge, Mass – to call someone a racist is fightin words. So:
You don’t say, “Gee, you might not realize it but that comment was a bit insensitive, you racist!”
You save that accusation for people who really can’t see beyond race and don’t want to. Once you make the accusation, people shut down and dialog stops.
Save it for bigots, not an art critic (from there Voice, for Christ’s sake!) who is clearly trying very hard to parse the meanings behind Wiley’s art.
Obviously this doesn’t mean that she can’t be criticized for racial insensitivity, but don’t substitute the hard work of making an intelligent argument with a cheap ad hominem attack.
Sorry Steve, but that’s just not how it works. I hate to upset your apparent delicate sensibilities (and perhaps get you or folks from your neighborhood all riled up and ready to fight), but your response just reeks of privilege. First of all, this isn’t “semantics.” It’s like you’re attempting to use Occam’s Razor to explain away racism(?)…YES RACISM. As I said, I imagine racism is a “negative and pervasive power relationship, often played out in language, art, etc.” This article, in my opinion, is a clear example of racism in language and art in the guise of intellectual critique. (You realize that northern intellectuals that work for urbane, hip magazines can be racists too? Sometimes they are the worst kind) You don’t have the right to tell me – or any oppressed minorities for that matter – what is or isn’t racist, just because you disagree and are – by your upbringing – inclined to fight. Who cares? Get thicker skin, develop compassion, realize that racial debate can be uncomfortable, and also – yes – illuminating. I imagine its very uncomfortable to be publicly exposed as writing a racist article. However, how about the pain that oppressed minorities experience as a result of said racism? (Insert compassion) No expressed concern from you on that point, huh? They should just shut up (or people from your neighborhood will apparently fight them). Listen, I know the meaning of “ad hominem”, and “petitio principii” and they don’t apply here. All that applies is “circulus in probando”, (circular reasoning) and its in your reasoning. Attempting to stifle debate – through veiled violence no less – is not a part of the solution.
Ronald, aside from whether Lawson’s article is or is not actually racist, I’m arguing for a sliding scale, from mild racial insensitivity on the part of perfectly well-meaning people – micro-agressions, as they’re fashionably known – to, well, Bull Connor.
To label the whole lot as racists, which will inevitably include the majority of the tongue-tripping human race, does a disservice to the cause of trying to enlighten people. That’s why I strongly object to using the term racist to describe Lawson.
I think some commenters here are simply furious at Lawson for her strogly-worded critique of an African American painter; they do not believe that she would have been so harsh towards a white painter with Wiley’s talent.
But for others the most controversial paragraph in Lawson’s review is the following:
“Where once was a powerful white man, Wiley inserts a firm piece of African-American flesh. Where white power aggrandized itself in official state portraiture, now young blacks from the ghetto, the ones newspaper headlines insist are without future and en route to incarceration, straddle stallions. What does it mean to put a young black man on a horse and call him Napoleon? If it isn’t dangling a fantasy and false hope, then at least it implies that young urban blacks are in desperate need of uplift. You call that empowerment?”
To me it’s clear that Lawson’s objections to Wiley stem from her perception of his failure to show his models as individuals rather than types. That’s the opposite of a racist argument. She could be wrong but that’s her prerogative as a critic.
I understand your whole sliding scale argument. However, the problem is what end it serves. I don’t know the last time your read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” but I think he addresses your whole sliding scale point succinctly.
In case you’re unaware, Dr. King’s audience in that letter was to the “fine,” “upstanding” members of the white clergy in Birmingham who found issue with him stirring up trouble in the community through civil disobedience (I think several people wanted to fight him at the time too, btw). Dr. King took exception with the local clergy because they chose to frame HIM as the problem, rather than addressing the real problem – racism (to you, as personified by Bull Connor). Dr. King addressed the local white clergy as part of the problem as well, no matter how well-intentioned they thought themselves to be (and rather eloquently from a jail cell).
I imagine you view the “faux uproar” about this article as the consequence of an unfortunate choice of words from an otherwise “enlightened” and educated individual (she works at the Voice, right?!), and knee-jerked anger stemming from the rabid (and fashionable! as you put it) pitchforks from an increasingly racially sensitive – dare I say “uppity” – (fighting words?) misguided racial-justice mob. Once again, how privileged of you. Racism is racism. Sorry, you well-intentioned folks out there who want a pat on the back for not being Bull Connor. Bull is an easy, convenient target. Art critics at the Voice are not.
I view racism as a lens, which has the ability to negatively shape perception and – ultimately – reality. For me, the goal – is to remove or correct the lens. It’s a lens that distorts the world and – ultimately – cruelly dehumanizes others. It can take several forms – job discrimination, calling someone or something “ghetto,” school segregation, apartheid, housing discrimination, a funny e-mail, slavery, or even art criticism (yes)
The only distinction I make between Bull Connor and others in his ilk are: a) power and b) the ability to influence others.
Its easy to point fingers at easy targets. I’m sorry that pointing them at “hard” ones makes you want me to shut up.
Well, no, as I said before, I do not think Dawson’s article is racist.
Nor do I want you to shut up!
I understand that you think her review is racist, but are you really going to equate Jessica Dawson with Bull Connor? Even if I thought Dawson had been insensitive I wouldn’t tar her with the same brush. Dr King was fighting apartheid – you’re fighting some possibly poorly-chosen words of a review of a celebrated black artist’s show at a major art institution. These situations seem to me worlds apart – not post-racial, but certainly far advanced.
Furthermore I think there’s a very real danger in making such a comparison: all nuance is missed. You’ve repeatedly accused me of wanting to shut you up and stifle debate, because I said that labeling Dawson a racist was unhelpful. But slinging an insult is much easier than parsing a complex argument, especially when the supposed racism is not crystal-clear. And again let me state that I simply disagree with your assessment that the review is racist.
In my view, it’s those who respond too quickly and shrilly who tend to shut down all dialog by drowning it out. As human beings, we are ALL insensitive to others’ concerns and issues at one time or another. Sometimes those others are individuals, sometimes groups. Can you not admit to ever behaving in a chauvinist, entitled manner towards a woman? If so, how would you want to be addressed? With labels and insults, or with reason?
If there is a lens, a lens of racism, who grinds it and calibrates it?
I can only imagine how the entire tone of this dialogue and commentary would change if it were a super wealthy white straight artist like Koons picking up disenfranchised (very) young women from lower income neighborhoods under the same sexualized circumstances. I am sure Hyperallergic and all its fans would be perfectly OK with that…
Because that would be the same thing in your mind?
What’s the difference?
“Third, the connotation that all those “newspaper headlines” are being so dramatic by insisting that this country has a major problem with mass incarceration.
And then there’s the kicker: the assertion that it is a “fantasy and
false hope” to suggest that young black men should aspire to, let alone
might ever achieve, positions of power.”
You’ve completely misread that passage. Dawson was implying that the news headlines convey a dire situation for blacks in America where as the paintings are suggesting that contemporary Blacks have attained an equal status among whites, which is either fantasy or false hope.
I don’t necessarily agree with her opinions, I just wanted to point out how, as usual, Steinhauer has reacted with SJW hyperbole.
Its not only racist, its homophobic. He appears to be engaging with his
subjects in the same way artists have been doing for centuries, through a
sort of seduction and implicit sexual interest. As described in the
review, why is this predatory? Is it because the
artist is a wealthy (probably) black homosexual and as such there is no
way this could be anything but lurid? The review also implies that his
subjects are unable to make an informed choice about weather to pose for
the artist or not. Why does she believe this, is it because they are
black men who sleep with men (possibly) and as such they
couldn’t have the intelecutal capacity to be anything other
I don’t see this review as anything more than a rather typical art critic doing what she does best, giving a review. It’s a rather good review as reviews go because it is understandable and well written. She has her point of view, which I don’t think is homophobic, but a bit bitchy, but not overly so. The beauty of being an art critic is that one need only an opinion and a modicum of artistic knowledge. Dawson knows her art and she has an opinion…and I rather liked it, even if I think the art is more humorous than good.
When she was critiquing the art as art, she was well within the norm, and her abilities. But she went the extra mile to slander this man for his relationship to models and brought in considerable homophobic bias to her review as a means of driving that home.
She crossed a line for me.
Maybe you know for a fact that she was slandering…telling a lie? or telling the facts? Whether or not the artist is gay is of no matter. Critics have for years…indeed historians…have talked about Michelangelo’s homosexuality and da Vinci”s and half a dozen others of the greatest artist and have commented a lot about how it is reflected in their art. Would you also call this homophobic and slander? I understand your feelings and that you appear to be hypersensitive to anything critical of homosexuality…but if a homosexual’s art is not to our liking and we criticize it are we automatically homophobic? I can’t stand Truman Capote’s writing…does that make me homophobic? I would say not…but I fear you would tell the world that I am.
So you don’t think that Dawson’s assertion Wiley enjoys a casting couch-style relationship with his subjects wasn’t slanderous? Okay.
For somebody accusing someone else of being hypersensitive, your comment certainly shows considerable defensiveness regarding an accusation I did not make about you.
I don’t know either of these people personally, but the only defence against an accusation of slander is truth. She would have to know for certain that this man lured subjects into his studio for sex in order to non-slanderously state that he did so. I don’t think she knows that.
And her statements (as I said) regarding her opinion of his art are within norms of critiquing, so her liking or not liking it is just fine (as is your opinion on Capote’s work, btw). But she crosses the line in her statements. The language she uses, the accusations she lays, and the obvious distaste she shows for the subject matter shows clear racial and sexuality bias.
Unless she’s just very, very bad at conveying her true message, her article is one that I would at least call homophobic.
And I consider racially negative as well. What is her issue with African-Americans depicted in this clearly powerful manner once reserved for European bodies, anyway?
OK, You win. I don’t have the energy to continue this stupid discussion. I’m just making conversation as I would with friends over coffee. I didn’t realize I was going to start a race war or a gender demonstration. The critic was terrible, the art is magnificent no matter what he or she does in his or her personal life, and you should be running Christies. I’ll send you a plaque.
See, that’s what I mean about [edit: claiming somebody else is] hypersensitive while being so yourself. I haven’t been rude to you, just disagreed with you. I happen to be able to back up my disagreement with solid argument. That doesn’t make me the bad guy. It doesn’t even make me a bad over-coffee conversationist.
If you’re going to storm off angry just because somebody disagrees with you, then I can’t do anything about that, but I urge you to consider that the people you’re storming off from are as real as you and don’t need their face slapped for daring to disagree.
Oh no, this is all wrong. The political debate is crowding out the discussion of the art, here. Maybe Dawson was to blame for using that as a point of critique in the first place, but it is rubbish to attack a review for not fulfilling your own idea of what racial or sexual orientation justice should do. A review’s a review. You can’t argue with it, not without sounding like an idiot.
“…but it is rubbish to attack a review for not fulfilling your own idea of what racial or sexual orientation justice should do”
No one’s asking that the review should achieve anything in the name of social justice. What we do ask is that the review not employ racist and homophobic generalizations and stick to critiquing the art itself.
While I may have my own very real issues with Wiley’s “oeuvre” central being the overly facile and one-dimensional concept of placing black folks in classical white portraiture, as far as the article is concerned, she over trivializes and maybe even fetishizes (in her own typical fearful manner) black sexuality. Black male sexuality isn’t something that should be alluded to on canvas if you listen to her. One more thing, while Wiley isn’t my cup of tea (being watered down Earl Grey vs it’s own unique strong brew) I commend him on connecting Black cool and “sprezzatura,” a phrase I only recently discovered and one that is as connected to black masculinity as our skin and our history. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprezzatura
The Voice has become such a piece of crap. Dumb writers, cosseted views. Everything it rebelled against before it was bought out in 2005.
Yeah…. I don’t get it… predatory or not what’s the point? There has been quite a lot of predatory artist in the past, GREAT ARTISTS, pedophiles and etc… so what’s the point? Do artist NOW only have to make PC art but they have to behave like model citizens? That’s NOT the role of an artist in society and question a work of art based on the artist personal life is totally unprofessional in my opinion. Specially if the artist is alive and there is no proof of what she is saying. No no no.
Kehinde Wiley is one of America’s finest artist, the fact that he is African American is difficult for many people and that includes those in positions of influence. His success is too much for many to bear, obviously. Why else would an artist of his caliber and international success be dismissed so badly? We need to keep in mind that Kehinde Wiley was only just recently awarded the highest award of artistic excellence by the State Department. KW is an ambassador also as an international artist. I did not find the Roberta Smith analysis anything but negative. White artists get the royal treatment when their work, and I am writing about mainly well established white male artists now, they would never be nitpicked and belittled in print in such a way, it seems fairly obvious to anyone following these reviews. Negative reviews in light of KW’S approaching shindig at the Brooklyn Museum is particularly transparent. This articulate and magnificent artist has youth. He has pedigree from Yale. He has international recognition. He has a national Arts award. He is just simply too much for others to applaud because he is not white and he is not straight. Am I getting it right or am I getting it wrong? Many congratulations to you Kehinde Wiley. You are one amazing American artist of distinction and that simply cannot be taken away from you.
Joyce, I honestly think you’re wrong about the art world’s inability to celebrate an artist because of their race – or gender, sexual orientation, religion, whatever. The art world is deeply motivated by energy, content and the ability to make money. The days of its being an old white boy’s club are fast coming to a close. The days of its being an old straight white boy’s club came to a close 70 years ago.
I would just just site Chris Ofilli’s work and recent show at the New Museum to bolster my point, but obviously there are many more artists one could mention.
More to the point is the difficulty minority kids have getting an arts education, and thus even considering a career in the arts – but that is a larger societal issue, different from the art world’s supposed racial boundaries.
As far as the Roberta Smith review, if you knew her reviews you’d know that that was very high praise. Roberta almost never gives a complete thumbs-up, and the higher an artist’s career rise, the more criticality she’s likely to bring to bear. Stating that Wiley’s work is now part of the culture is acknowledging a rare feat for a painter.
Every artist that attains the success Wiley has is subject to endless nitpicking and belittling – this is the price of doing business in the art world, it reflects the huge numbers of artists and the very small number of venues to show and review their art.
It really is not racism.
We share a differing opinion. In all the years I have been following artists and art views and reviewers I have never once read such scathing criticism of an artist. Times have certainly not changed that much over time. It would have made a much, much more interesting article or articles had reviewers mentioned his recent U.S. State Medal honor in light of their criticism but that was not even mentioned. Why not? How to reconcile the opinions? We can decide for ourselves.
We share a differing opinion. In all the years I have been following artists and art views and reviewers I have never once read such scathing criticism of an artist. Circumstance have certainly not changed that much over time for most African American as well as female artists, the numbers and recognition is simply not there. I believe it would have made a much, much more interesting article or articles had reviewers mentioned Kehinde Wiley’s recent U.S. State Art honor and award, in light of their criticism, but that was not even mentioned. Why not? How to reconcile the opinions? We can decide for ourselves.
Without some sort of speculation–whether political, social, personal, or other–there is no review. That’s where 50 years of reader response has left us.
[In response to any number of comments on this post]
So it’s come around again to judging art and its critics by the benchmark of “identity.” And we wonder why art is driven by market rather than anything deeper? These pieces are empty of expression beyond titillation, and super-saturated with luridly entertaining color and cutesy shapes. Great failures of relationship between artist/model or one human to another. Trivial. THAT is what should be batted around, rather than self-centered “identity.”
“Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark,
without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a
foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news —
things which on their own merits would get the big headlines-being kept
right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened
but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to
mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is
easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and
most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest
on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship
also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and
radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which
it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without
question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other,
but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was
‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who
challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with
surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost
never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the
What do you expect from a writer who’s company’s editorial voice is based in Phoenix Arizona?
Her misunderstanding of all the power dynamics at play here is sooooo patronising. All her speculations are clouded by a fog of cartoon tropes.
“, now young blacks from the ghetto, the ones newspaper headlines insist
are without future and en route to incarceration, straddle stallions.
What does it mean to put a young black man on a horse and call him
Napoleon? If it isn’t dangling a fantasy and false hope, then at least
it implies that young
urban blacks are in desperate need of
uplift. You call that empowerment?”
What the fuck are you saying woman!!!???
I think its really shitty to call the artist predatory. I find that the most offensive and truly homophobic statement. Maybe as a queer woman who sometimes paints female nude models in my studio I took it a little personal, I dunno.
I do find his work formulaic. He’s been doing these paintings for years. But I guess the subject is pretty rich. Western traditional art and its relationship to race, class and gender. I like to see those crappy old paintings taken down a peg. It’s gratifying to see young POC in the space formerly occupied by grotesquely wealthy, ugly old white dude. I’d like to see him expand out of this reliable formula he has developed tho.
The review is pretty good. In his 15 year career Wiley has made the same painting, over and over again, based on a concept that he stole from 60s artist Barkley Hendricks. And they’re all painted in China. There are so many great artists out there creating imaginative meaningful things. Focus on those artists, not this hack.
Thank you! Why can’t people see these are simply bad paintings?! It’s irrelevant if WK is African American or not!
Wiley adds to the conversation surrounding black male sexuality where in most instances of contemporary culture it has been limited to emasculation or the exotic other. Yet, I still find the work on the conservative side in that depiction and if in fact his work was as provocative as Jessica Dawson tries to make it in her misreading then it would be a lot more exciting to look at. Luring young men implies that they are minors who are being taken advantage of, but who is to say that they are all consenting adults who enter his studio because they want to be there. It’s also pretty obvious that she is just bringing up typical stereotypes of gay culture in order to provoke. The biggest controversy is that he is black and gay and his rendering of the male figure is too realistic for a certain public to deal with because that realness brings to the fore those negative stereotypes.
The review sucks, it’s really mean and really shady BUT…….EVERY man KW has painted is INDEED someone he is fucking, has fucked, or wants to fuck. EVERYONE in Brooklyn knows that. He needs to stop making it sound so fancy and relevant and spin it for what it is: A celebration of gay life without shame or deceit in urban culture.
I know for a fact that one of the guys he painted is not gay. Now he may still have wanted to fuck this person I don’t know, but I doubt if he did. So celebrating gay life is not relevant?
I just find it shocking that a gay man would seek out a man he is attracted to and then make art about it. Just very, very shocking. “End of the world” shocking. As an aside though, and on a practical note, isn’t that about the most inefficient form of cruising you ever heard of? And if Kehinde Wiley is, in fact, exhibiting not paintings, but rather, “predatory behavior dressed up as art-historical affirmative action,” shouldn’t he be in prison? Dawson does appear to be accusing him of being a sex predator and we all know those are the kind of people that belong in prison, right? We all know that sex predators are rapists and molesters. Dawson’s logic would then dictate that Wiley’s paintings are not those of a young Monet or Matisse, but those of a rapist and molester. Thank God for Dawson’s warning.
It’s totally o.k. not to like Kehinde Wiley’s work. And there are a lot of reasons not to. However, in her piece Ms. Dawson completely misses the point – that by putting young black men in the poses of European paintings – largely made to celebrate kings and aristocrats – he is essentially offering a critique of colonialism. Period. She never seems to understand this or why he does this, and appears to believe it’s some sort of dumb trick or shtick. But she fails to ask or interrogate the actual meaning of what he is doing, or any of the works, instead she gets hung up on Wiley himself, so much so that she can’t help but make her attack personal.
And yet, how many artists have drawn such a straight line from one kind of history to another and from oppressed people to their oppressors? Fred Wilson, a pioneering institutional critic, did some of that with his displays in museums, but those were presented in a very didactic manner. Or take David Hammons, a brilliant conceptualist who uses wit and irony and the strategies of conceptual art to discuss some of the same ideas about identity and culture that Wiley does. But she didn’t connect Wiley to anyone, it’s as if he came out of nowhere, ahistorically.
Although she did seem to know Wiley went to Yale, she neglected to mention the strong figurative painters that have emerged from that school in the past few decades. I could list John Currin, Lisa Yuskavage or even Kyle Staver. All deal with nudes, with sexuality, and with mythology. Are we to believe they too are perverts? Should we also alert the police of a possible nest of predators? Or is there a possibility that Wiley is part of a tradition that Ms. Dawson simply was not aware of?
If that’s the case then it is a shame because when his work is viewed in that context a lot of otherwise confusing things start to make sense. One such thing is that the Yale tradition is somewhat exploitative of the female form. Another is that it is more or less Eurocentric. Even if one takes the approach that Wiley is critiquing colonialism by placing black men in the positions made for European aristocrats, he is also simultaneously critiquing the white/Eurocentric/female-objectifying figurative tradition of Yale. Isn’t that kinda cool?
So Ms. Steinhauer is right to call Ms. Dawson out. She’s even rather nice about it. Steinhaur herself invests a tremendous amount of research, time and energy in her own art writing and it’s reasonable to be offended by a piece that seems like it was written against a 4:30 am deadline by someone who had never seen Wiley’s work before and inexplicably got a review published by the once great Village Voice.
p.s. a note to Ms. Dawson – people of color dealing with concepts of colonialism or post-colonialism is kind of a big thing. To miss that framework is to misunderstand Wiley’s work (and the work of many artists) altogether.
I disagree that Wiley’s work is about colonialism. If that were the case then there would have been a larger cast of characters to reflect the diversity of colonialism, Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals, Asiatic “coolies”, etc. His work seems mostly focused on African Americans specifically. There could be hints of French colonialism in the Napoleon portrait, but overall that’s generally not how I’d personally read KW’s paintings.
His work seems to mostly invert all of the associations with traditional European painting. Instead of the aristocrats we get the disenfranchised, instead of pale flesh we get dark skin, instead of high fashion we get urban outfits, instead of visual pleasure we get conceptual work, instead of heterosexuals we get homosexuals, instead of specific time we get atemporal space, etc. It mostly seems to take the tropes of a particular kind of painting and turns it on it’s head. Colonialism is possibly one tenet of the work but I’m not so sure it’s the central dialogue. I think it speaks more to irony than anything, which is what makes it such a commercial success.
About the predator charges, I don’t think Dawson was suggesting that any kind of illegal activity was taking place, only that a potentially exploitive relationship was occuring, so no need to alert the authorities. I think she went a bit far in her assumptions but wasn’t suggesting activities outside of the law.
I’d also disagree about Steinhauer being right to call out Dawson’s review in the way in which she did. Dawson’s review is filled with problems but not in the way Steinhauer was suggesting, which implied that the negative review was out of racism and homophobia.
First you assert “I disagree that Wiley’s work is about colonialism.” then you think it through and admit, “Colonialism is possibly one tenet of the work..” and from what else you said, it kind of sounds like you are not too familiar with his art. While trying to tell me what his work is really all about, you inadvertently describe why his work is indeed about colonialism:
“His work seems to mostly invert all of the associations with traditional European painting. Instead of the aristocrats we get the disenfranchised, instead of pale flesh we get dark skin, instead of high fashion we get urban outfits, instead of visual pleasure we get conceptual work, instead of heterosexuals we get homosexuals, instead of specific time we get atemporal space, etc. It mostly seems to take the tropes of a particular kind of painting and turns it on it’s head.”
In other words, you are simply reiterating what I already said in my comment. But thank you, that means you listened to what I had to say.
In case you did not go, I would definitely recommend going seeing his show at the Brooklyn Museum. Bring a friend if you can, it’s good first date material or a superb conversation starter for kids. It runs until May 24, 2015.
“While trying to tell me what his work is really all about, you inadvertently describe why his work is indeed about colonialism”
No, I still disagree that his work is about colonialism. I was describing in that sequence how his work is about irony, colonialism is just an afterthought. His work deals with colonialism in about as much as Jeff Koons’ work is about balloon dogs.
It is ironic that you disagree with what I wrote while simultaneously validating it and still suggesting it’s all about irony. The true irony is to not read any cultural commentary or critique in work that directly addresses cultural commentary and critique. Well, maybe I am just missing something. It’s like saying Tracy Emin’s work has nothing to do with sex, Damien Hirst’s work has nothing to do with death or mortality and Andy Warhol’s work has nothing to do with POP art. And Jeff Koons for that matter – his work has nothing to do with kitsch. So, sure Wiley’s work has nothing to do with colonialism.
But Steinhauer is right to call out bad writing. Otherwise we are just encouraging sloppy thinking.
Yes, Jeff Koons is about kitsch, just as John Currin is about kitsch. Their kitsch artwork is presented ironically. John Currin’s work isn’t valued because of its pornographic nature, it’s in the same vein as Koons in that it refines pop art. Pop art was about subverting Greenberg’s insistence the avant-garde and kitsch are two seperate categories, the pop artists showed that populist artwork could become avant-garde art if it was presented ironically. Artists later refined this idea to focus specifically on the word “kitsch”, which is what gives artists like Jeff Koons so much value, it’s art historical connection, especially to New York and how it relates to Greenberg.
Wiley’s work operates within this same group of artists. He’s found a way to present a kitschy take on the old masters and present it to an audience ironically. If Wiley dropped the irony from his work but continued in the colonial aspects, his stock value would plummet. However, if he dropped the colonial nature of his work but found another creative way of making ironic kitsch then his stock would potentially rise.
So, Wiley’s work is about as much about colonialism as Jeff Koons is about balloon dogs, or John Currin is about porn. It’s there as a vehicle. These things are submissive to the irony, not the other way around.
I don’t get the colonialism Chris because I thought colonialism is when one country the stronger one takes over the weaker ones. These history paintings were done primarily in Europe and not Africa, Asia or some other continent that has been colonlize. Although, I did see a nice painting that he recently did of Franz Fanon at a booth in the Armory Fair.
As far as I understand it, colonialism’s impact is far greater than just real estate seizures by stronger countries from weaker ones. The effects of colonialism is impactful on the psychology, customs and rituals and even language of the colonized. When a colonial power moves in, they are a conquering force, subjugating the people that live there, sometimes enslaving them, sometimes killing them and other times just exploiting them. That includes issues of identity, of beauty and of moral good or bad. I am not attempting to Mansplain or Whitesplain colonialism to anyone but I am simply offering my view of one element of Kehinde’s work. Also – if his work was LITERALLY about colonialism it would be agitprop and nobody would care because agitprop is almost never about beauty and Wiley is all about beauty.
After some thought I would have to partially agree about the colonialism aspect, but not in regard to all of the work. I would say that the work done in Africa address those issues in a more literal sense and while you are not suggesting that one needs to be literal to see this you do have context and knowledge. With regard to work done where he inserted African Americans in place of the original sitter I keep coming and going back to the original sitter which was why I was so reclutant to see or could not see this colonialism in the first place. African Americans were never colonlize, they were displaced, and enslave and therefore had no point of reference or less of a point of reference than Africans. You cannot kick someone out of a house you never lived in, so they are only left with mimicing and recreating an idenity based on totally new circumstances. This in some ways makes Dawason correct but others have said this also in that the sitter remains anonymous. The title of the work took precedent over the individual whereas the paintings done in African were named after the individual sitters that posed in most cases.
Hi Fred, I completely agree with you that his work is not only about colonialism, since the conversation he engages viewers in is much broader.
Not being moved in the least by Wiley’s composites, I didn’t waste good time after bad, reading either review.
However, ‘predator’ could mean capitalizing on others’ struggle with very little to show for.
Yeah, no. She drew quite clear connections between the dots regarding predator when she waxed poetic about spermatozoa
This so-called “review” is dangerously close to slander. It reveals everything about the author more than anything else. And then there is this amazing wtf: “black figurative equivalent of Thomas Kinkade” ??????
The Voice review is ridiculous and definitely has racist and homophobic overtones that really have nothing to do with the work.
However, the painting is terrible. Why not just focus on that?
They are terrible paintings! Yet Wiley played strategically to get institutional recognition and commercial success. In that sense, I think Dawson’s argument made sense.
“Having discovered the art world’s weakness, Wiley has painted himself as untouchable.”
Wiley has proven himself a canny operator seducing an art public cowed
by political correctness and willing to gloss over the more lurid
implications of the 38-year-old artist’s production.———–I find it outspoken yet maybe some people call it “offensive.”
I don’t like Wiley’s painting at all, only because they are simply bad paintings, bad art. It has nothing to do with his race or sexuality. I find it interesting here in the comments, people tend to focus on whether Ms. Dawson is a feminist or racist, but ignore the art itself. To me, if an artist’s art is bad, so it be. It’s like no matter what good or bad commercial the manufacturer put on TV, if their products are bad, they are not going to get consumers to buy.
I feel calling the Dawson article racist is totally off the point.
It seems more like a political debate. Choosing a weak point from your
opponent and fire at it. But ignore the subject you are discussing.
She doesn’t like an artist’s art and he happens to be an African American artist, so she is racist. Does this sound ridiculous?!
I don’t like Wiley’s art at all but I am not white. What do you want to label me?
LC, I think part of the issue people have is that it was an amateurish review coming from the Village Voice, which once had some of the best writers in the country doing art reviews. Serious art publications have certain journalistic standards and editorial standards but Dawson’s piece on a major show in New York was written more like an opinion blog than a thoroughly researched article. It’s a decent first draft piece, but it really does feel like Dawson had never heard of his work before doing the article, which in NYC means you should not get to write the review of a major museum show for a prominent publication. In the end it makes the Voice less credible.
For what it’s worth, I don’t really think Dawson’s piece is racist either.
Thanks for your reply. I agree that the Dawson article is lack of research. But I appreciate it sharpness and not worry too much being “political correct.” 😀
You jump to a conclusion here “he happens to be an African American artist, so she is racist. Does this sound ridiculous?!”
It is neither his ethnicity, nor her dislike for his work that marks her writing, but rather how she treats that ethnicity (and homosexuality) in the piece. She could have written a negative piece about his art and it would not have bothered me in the least. But what was she doing discussing the “false hope” of depicting African-Americans as heroic subjects and talking about the adult models she accuses the artist of sleeping with?
She showed considerable gaps in knowledge in both these areas. She really should have just panned his art.
Well, we know what to make of Jessica Dawson; and it ain’t pretty. She’s given Kenhinde Wiley grounds to sue both her and Village Voice for Libel.
On the other hand, I don’t always love Roberta Smith’s writing but her Time’s review was the best piece of writing that I recall coming from her reviews in a while. Ms. Dawson seems more like a visual arts columnist with a survival-instinct need to be provocative than a serious or thoughtful critic. She infantilizes Wiley’s subjects and see them through the lense of her own unfortunate sexual abuse by a trusted uncle, documented in an article in The Daily Beast. However all of Kehinde Wiley’s seem to be adults and while there may be an element of capitalist (not sexual) exploitation, there is also a certain amount of agency on the part of his subjects that is often missing in other artworks. “Predatory” is a ridiculously loaded word for her to bandy about in this review and she completely reveals her own jaundiced misreading of Wiley’s project when she calls him a “perpetrator”. That’s explicitly criminalizing his project in a pretty odious way and comes from a very reflexive anger that she should reflect on if she wants to be an objective critic dealing with sexuality, race and sexual orientation.
There are days when I see a work by Wiley and it gives me the queasy feeling that’s not unlike a sense that I get viewing some of the covers of O magazine – making me want to reach for a James Baldwin book or hyperlink to Jacob Lawrence paintings as antidotes, but these are different times (thank god in so many ways!) and both Wiley and Oprah are responding to very different circumstances than the ones that formed previous generations.
Andras, thanks for the mention of the Daily Beast review, which, I think it’s important to mention, is by her: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/03/i-lived-dylan-farrow-s-story.html
I agree with you that this probably explains her particular hostility to Wiley’s practice. She may or may not have a point, but is certainly going for the jugular here.
Anyway, I think your comment is very perceptive.
Yes, I’d agree with this comment. Thank you for bringing her Daily Beast review into the dialogue, I think this angle makes substantially more sense than the case of racism or homophobia. Overall it’s unfortunate, it seems she’s taken what she read into his work personally and wasn’t able to remain objective.
She didn’t like the show, so what?
I don’t see exploitation in Wiley’s paintings, but I do see a formulaic aspect that gets repetitive after awhile. The couple of times I’ve seen a number of his works in one place, when I leave they all blur together in my mind. I also think that they owe a huge debt to the work of Barkley Hendricks (born 1945) that seems to go unremarked in reviews. Except I think Hendricks’ has more range and personality in his portraits, perhaps in part because he hasn’t limited himself to posing his subjects according to the art of the past, or to just painting black men.
This reads very much like a rant. I understand that Steinhauer is conveying shock at the content Dawson’s review (it is exceptionally bad); however, I think the tenor of this article undercuts her ethos a bit. I would imagine the ideas presented here might persuade more people if a little more attention were given to shaping the emotional charge of the writing. Thoughtful restraint might be the best counter to Dawson’s inappropriate, ill-conceived review.
Keep on keepin on Wiley..Your work is FLAWLESS!!!! I love it!!! and I teach my students about you and how you put an urban twist to these famous paintings that had used only white subjects and how you also integrated pattern from cloths you found from all over the world. LOVE ME SOME Kehinde Wiley!!!!
We also discuss your paintings featured in the show Empire.
Actually I think Ms Dawson was spot on. And the paintings are truly dreadful. I’d put him in a sack with John Currin, tie it with string and hit the bag with a stick. And I wouldn’t care who got the worst of the beating.
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