the new masters
Provocative, awe-inspiring Kehinde Wiley MFAH showcase remains this season's must-see exhibit
Houston art lovers who haven’t yet attended the “Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence” exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston are missing out on a showcase of jaw-dropping art.
The recently opened exhibit is an awe-inspiring collection of paintings and sculptures from the Los Angeles-born, Brooklyn-based artist of color, best known for creating a majestically leafy portrait of former President Barack Obama. Locals will remember that the MFAH was one of the rare museums to showcase the works — starting with a free opening weekend that became a city celebration.
While “An Archaeology of Solace” premiered earlier this year at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the MFAH is actually the first stop on its tour. Located in the Audrey Jones Beck Building, the exhibit is an overwhelming experience of Black power.
And it’s a power shift. While Wiley’s large-scale paintings and sculptures call to mind the heroes, martyrs, and saints of Western European historical art, they are unmistakably Black and brown subjects who suffer under “the specter of police violence and state control over the bodies of young Black and Brown people all over the world,” Wiley notes in an artist statement.
Thus, the rooms are all Black, as the gigantic oil-on-canvas paintings (a couple are practically the size of billboards) of laid-out Black bodies – usually rocking streetwear gear – are brightly spotlighted. Many of these works were inspired by historical pieces, mainly German artist Hans Holbein’s The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.
Wiley's Young Tarentine I (Babacar Mané), 2022. Image via Museum of Fine Arts Houston / © 2022 Kehinde Wiley
The bronze sculptures are equally grand and striking. The most impressive one is the titular statue, a reworking of his 2019 sculpture Rumors of War. While the Rumors sculpture depicts an upright Black rider on a general’s horse, this sculpture features a fallen figure atop a horse.
The titular, An Archaeology of Silence (2021) harks to the 2019 sculpture Rumors of War. Image via Museum of Fine Arts Houston / © 2022 Kehinde Wiley
Both sculptures are based on a monument to Confederate army General James Ewell Brown Stuart, which was removed and placed into storage in the wake of the 2020 George Floyd murder.
This entire exhibit was inspired by the worldwide outrage that transpired after Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. Wiley himself explains the inspiration for the exhibit via the audio guide given to visitors:
The birth of the show starts as the world shuts down. As we see George Floyd slain in the streets of America, I get to work. I start thinking not only about this explosive moment that triggers the whole world into thinking about Black bodies in a different way, But I start thinking about imaging of bodies slain historically.
Fans of the artist can look forward to Kehinde Wiley merch upstairs in the gift shop. An obligatory exhibition catalog is for sale, as well as hoodies, umbrellas, bookbags, playing cards, coloring books, and more. Proceeds will go to the Black Rock Coalition, a New York-based artists’ collective.
“Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Solace” will be on display at the Audrey Jones Beck Building of the MFAH (5601 Main St.). For exhibition schedule, tickets, and more, visit the MFAH online.