Over the last 2 months, every museum that I have visited has featured work by Kehinde Wiley, and this piece at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art is probably one of my favorites purely because of its location.
St. John the Baptist II is part of the Nasher’s permanent collection, and they chose to place the work prominently in the museum’s European Gallery among works by Rubens, Drouais, and Jacob Jordaens. Wiley’s work draws heavily on a 2006 urban style aesthetic that’s comfortably placed within an important art historical context. The striking juxtaposition between the 2000s and the 1600s becomes a powerful reminder of the historical exclusion of the black body in classical figurative painting.
The sheer scale of the large piece in the gallery also makes a striking statement on the disruption of the art historical cannon. I just love the fact that Wiley’s piece rests prominently among the artists whose styles and poses his works emulate. In this work, Wiley’s subject mirrors the pose of Jordaens’ 1617 painting of Saint John the Baptist.