Kehinde Wiley / The World Stage: Israel

March 9 - July 29, 2012

Contemporary American painter Kehinde Wiley’s new series The World Stage: Israel—vibrant large-scale portraits of Israeli youths from diverse ethnic and religious affiliations, each embedded in a unique background influenced by Jewish ritual objects—is featured along with the artist’s selection of traditional Jewish papercuts and textiles from the Jewish Museum’s collection.

Installation view of Kehinde Wiley/The World Stage: Israel at the Jewish Museum, New York. Photo: Christine McMonagle.

One of the most significant young artists today, Kehinde Wiley is known for vibrant, large-scale paintings of young urban men, rendered in the self-confident, empowered poses typical of classical European portrait painting.

Part of a new series exploring the global diaspora, the works in The World Stage: Israel are based on photographs the artist took of men of diverse religions and ethnicities living in Israel. The detailed decorative backgrounds are based on Jewish ceremonial art. The exhibition includes 14 paintings and a selection of textiles and papercuts chosen by the artist from the Jewish Museum’s collection.

The Portraits
Wiley scouted his subjects in discos, malls, bars, and sporting venues in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Lod. The men in this series—Ethiopian and native-born Jews and Arab Israelis—express a modern sensibility that supersedes religious and ethnic affiliations. Distinctively, he places them against vivid, ornate backgrounds inspired by Jewish papercuts, an intricate form of folk and ceremonial art.
The Frames
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 Arab men, Wiley chose the plea of Rodney King, victim of a police beating that sparked race riots in the artist’s home city of Los Angeles in 1991: “Can we all get along?”
Papercuts and Textiles
A selection of papercuts and other works of ceremonial art from the museum’s collection were chosen by Wiley and are displayed alongside the paintings, echoing the dynamic interchange between the contemporary and the traditional within the works. Wiley’s painting Alios Itzhak, recently acquired by the Jewish Museum, portrays an Ethiopian Jewish Israeli man entwined in an ornamental background based on a papercut in the museum’s collection.
The exhibition is made possible by the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, the Melva Bucksbaum Fund for Contemporary Art, and the Barbara S. Horowitz Contemporary Art Fund, with additional support from Jerome and Ellen Stern.