Formerly a train station, the grand central nave of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris has retained its high ceilings and streaming natural light, making it the ideal exhibition space for historic sculptural masterpieces.
Now, the familiar collection of traditional statues has been enlivened by American artist Kehinde Wiley’s twist on the classical European tradition. At the centre of the hall, a large-scale canvas of a woman wearing bright street clothing, hangs beside two monumental sculptures.
These new works are an extension of the artist’s ongoing “DOWN” series which, since 2008, has reimagined famous depictions of fallen figures, such as Hans Holbein’s (c. 1520), but using contemporary subjects. In this case, Wiley was specifically inspired by the museum’s marble statue (1847) by the French sculptor Auguste Clésinger.
That work is directly quoted in Wiley’s painting , which focuses instead on the Senegalese athlete Mamadou Gueye, depicted in a yellow Louis Vuitton top, blue jeans and white sneakers.
Each of Wiley’s subjects are laid down or, in the case of , dropping from the seat of a horse in an inversion of the majesty we have come to expect of traditional equestrian portraiture. These poses might suggest calm repose—or violence and death.
“Whilst playing with the stereotypes of Western painting and sculpture, Kehinde Wiley carries an up-to-date message concerning the violence of contemporary society,” said Christophe Leribault, president of the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie, in a statement. “I wanted to display these works as an actual strand of those collections at the Musée d’Orsay that have been such an inspiration to him and of which he offers a fascinating rereading.”
Born in 1977, Wiley is known for his reinvention of art historical tropes and conventions to center contemporary Black subjects and experiences. The exhibition is an extension of his concurrent show at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice. See images of the installation below.
“Kehinde Wiley” is on view at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, through January 8, 2023.