Presented by Sean Kelly Gallery, Trickster is an exhibition of monumental paintings by Kehinde Wiley. A departure from Wiley’s practice of painting anonymous sitters, these portraits include a select group of extraordinary contemporary artists––Derrick Adams, Sanford Biggers, Nick Cave, Rashid Johnson, Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, Wangechi Mutu, Yinka Shonibare, Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. This will be Wiley’s second exhibition with the gallery and his first in the gallery’s new space.
In Trickster, Wiley explores the range of ways that artists engage with and draw from the world around them. He employs the mythological trickster trope––existent in nearly every culture’s folklore––to not only examine how artists disrupt the status quo and change the way in which we think, but as a signifier of how people of color navigate both real and symbolic social boundaries inherent to their blackness. As Lewis Hyde wrote in the book Trickster Makes This World, “…boundary creation and boundary crossing are related to one another, and the best way to describe trickster is to say simply that the boundary is where he will be found––sometimes drawing the line, sometimes crossing it, sometimes erasing or moving it, but always there, the god of the threshold in all its forms.” Wiley views the artists portrayed––amongst the most important and influential of their generation––as having navigated, pushed and redefined boundaries to establish a new canon within the history of Western art.
Wiley, as is central to his practice, draws on the historically Eurocentric Western art canon as a point of departure for Trickster. Influenced by Goya’s infamous Black Paintings, a series of fourteen powerfully haunting murals, striking in both their dark subject matter and palette, Wiley has restricted his use of color and incorporated barren landscapes into these new canvases. Here, the field becomes a sepia shadow mirroring the subjects’ flesh and enveloping them in a darkness that could be interpreted as either menacing or embracing. The result is a dance between light and dark, perfection and imperfection, hero worship and human frailty.