In the Weeds: Kehinde Wiley’s Obama Portrait
.As the United States clips along at the speed of Trump, the news cycle races by in a dizzying blur. Events rapidly recede without any time for real analysis. Such was the case for the big reveal of the official portraits of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Although it just happened on February 12, it already feels like ancient history. Yet this regrettable image is going to be cluttering up the National Portrait Gallery forever, so it’s worth understanding just what the tax payers had to subsidize.
The Michelle Obama portrait is just sad. A tentative, pallid non-likeness. The apparatchiks at the museum assure us that it is so popular it had to be moved to a larger display space. Perhaps a pilgrimage to it gives the same solace that some progressives get from the plastic Obama dolls they keep stashed in their purses. The artist who made this painting just seems to have attempted a task above their pay grade, and fell short. It happens.
It is the portrait of Barack that displays the corruption of the establishment. It’s a Postmodern mockery. As such it may be a fitting representation for Obama, but that doesn’t make it good art.
What makes this piece so awful? Let us count the ways.
American artist Andy Warhol set the tone back in the 1960s by reducing his contribution to his own “art” to being a celebrity spokesmodel for a brand of products he did not produce himself. That inane example has become the ideal for the untalented Postmodern artists, like Kehinde Wiley.
Even when he made his pieces himself, Wiley did a form of artistic cheating, using a prevalent practice which undermines the integrity of the act. He took photographs and used a projector to trace them onto the canvas. Artists who use this shortcut undercut themselves and their audience by doing a paint-by-numbers routine to create their works. These artists have reduced themselves to a mere cog in a mechanical reproduction process, not creating, but taking dictation from their gadgets. They let their tools make their discoveries for them. It is an inferior mode of creation. Perhaps it explains some of the compositional errors in the piece, like the 6 fingers on the left hand, or the really awkward perspective on the chair. The projector must have gotten bumped.
As exposed by the Gateway Pundit, the Obama portrait even fell back on copy/paste for the backdrop; the same image was tiled repeatedly.
The lack of engagement comes through in the pieces. as the New York Times noted back in 2008, “…the Conceptual rationale behind Mr. Wiley’s paintings has tended to overpower their visual presence, which helps reduce them to illustrations. Like Norman Rockwell’s paintings they look better in reproduction than in reality.”
But Wiley can’t even be bothered to put in that much effort anymore.
.Outsourced to Forced Labor
Beijing Studio: Dabbed more paint onto his clothes than the actual canvases
.Wiley doesn’t even make his own paintings. Does he set up workshops in distressed American inner cities, where he could cultivate apprentices drawn from the disadvantaged youths he claims to honor? No. He has a studio in worker’s paradise Beijing, China, along with other locations described as “global.” There he can pay cut rate salaries for assembly line production.
Wiley employs various strategies to defuse criticism about the practice. Sometimes he tries to get folksy:
“There’s nothing new about artists using assistants—everyone from Michelangelo to Jeff Koons has employed teams of helpers, with varying degrees of irony and pride—but Wiley gets uncomfortable discussing the subject. ‘I’m sensitive to it,’ he says. When I first arrived at his Beijing studio, the assistants had left, and he made me delete the iPhone snapshots I’d taken of the empty space. It’s not that he wants people to believe every brushstroke is his, he says. That they aren’t is public knowledge. It’s just a question of boundaries. “I don’t want you to know every aspect of where my hand starts and ends, or how many layers go underneath the skin, or how I got that glow to happen,’ he says. ‘It’s the secret sauce! Get out of my kitchen!’”
Sometimes he wants to brush it off with the jaded airs of an insider:
“‘The sentiments about authenticity in the public eye,’ Wiley tells me, with conversational casualness and an air of mild fatigue over having, once again, to explain this, ‘the discomfort with a large-scale art practice, comes from a myth in an artistic process that never existed. Rubens, Michelangelo: Both had large studios with many assistants. There is a long line of artists who work with other artists to realize a larger vision than is possible with one hand. Education in art history taught me this, as did being steeped in the reality of painting. My interest is in completing an image that is spectacular beyond belief. My fidelity is to the image and the art and not to the bragging rights of making every stroke on every flower. I’m realistic. It’s not romantic, but that romance never existed.'”
Conveniently left out of his analogy are all the artists who did indeed actually make their own art. Postmodern operators like to refer to workshops of the Old Masters as a precedent. It takes a lot of arrogance to claim any similarities between the incredible discipline and vision of renowned artists who have endured the test of time, and the second-rate novelties churned out now on behalf of stilted hacks. These days, all a Postmodern spokesmodel really needs to do is push the appropriate politically correct buttons.
.Vicious Virtue signalling
Before the Presidential portrait, one of the things Wiley was known for were variations on an image from apocryphal Book of Judith. In that story a woman saves Israel by seducing and assassinating an invading king; it was the subject of many Renaissance artworks. Wiley (or his helpers) depicted this scene as a black woman holding the decapitated head of a white woman. “It’s sort of a play on the ‘kill whitey’ thing,” Wiley explained. How playful! The privileged insider art world sure is getting played, falling all over themselves to show how woke they are for racial violence.
Wiley gets additional virtue status points as a gay man. You might think there was no connection between which set of genitals an artist enjoys and the quality of their work, but the establishment art world knows better than you. Wiley makes leering references to his preferences in his works. The persistent rumors about his casting couch demands on his models aren’t relevant here. But Wiley does provide other hints.
When the Obama portrait was unveiled many made an observation that was dismissed as a conspiracy theory: that Barack had a big old sperm on his forehead.
Photo Credit: Vigilant Citizen
The media denials were intense. “Wackadoodle,” said the Washington City Paper. “False,” and somehow racist, claimed Snopes. A picture circulated which claimed to prove it’s just an accurate rendering, but which doesn’t seem to support that point at all. The head of the alleged sperm is nowhere to be seen in the photo, and that’s what makes all the difference. But who are you going to believe, the media or your lying eyes?
It becomes even more evident when research shows sperm is a Wiley painting trademark. It’s sort of like a Hitchcock cameo, but with semen. Back when the Village Voice didn’t have to disavow the allusion, they positively gloated over 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).’ And if the painted tadpoles aren’t sufficiently suggestive, several of the gilded frames contain sperm reliefs of their own. (Talk about painting outside the lines.)”
Wiley: Napoleon is coming over the Alps
Who is the wackadoodle now?
There’s more that could be said about this debacle, but enough is enough for now. In my upcoming book, Remodern America: How the Renewal of the Arts Will Change the Course of Western Civilization, remedies are presented for the failures of elitist culture. As stated in the Remodern America Manifesto:
“Art is a more enduring and vital human experience than the power games of a greedy and fraudulent ruling class. The managers crashed the culture in pursuit of their agenda. They defend their usurped authority and privileges with doublethink, misdirection, and intimidation. Their time has run out. Reality is crashing back through their carefully constructed facades, and a time of reckoning has come. Enduring changes start in the arts. Remodernism defeats Postmodern desecration.”