Thursday, February 21, 2008
Hip-hop, history, and high art
Kehinde Wiley, Triple Portrait of Charles I
The National Portrait Gallery, once best-known for staid presidential portraits, has luckily abandoned its former "must be dead for ten years" rule for sitters whose countenances gaze at us from the historic walls of the Old Patent Office Building. Any of you who have visited NPG since its reopening (along with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, housed in the same beautifully remodeled edifice) will have noticed its decidedly fresh approach to showcasing American portraiture. A prime example of this is the current exhibition "Recognize! Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture."
Kehinde Wiley's huge, stunning portraits are a standout. His subjects emit hard, icy stares while being engulfed by frilly technicolor wallpaper that jumps out from the behind them and swirls life-like on the canvas.
Another artist not to miss is Baltimore-born Shinique Smith. The mixed-media installation No Theif to Blame looks like a graffiti piece, an overgrown garden, and a teenage girl's bedroom wall all at once. It is juxtaposed with the Nikki Givoanni poem "Not Just a Situation" and "honors the warrior women who have fueled me with their distinctive cries" according to Smith.
The exhibition, which also includes video, photography, and giant swaths of graffiti, is on view through October 26, 2008.