Has Wiley the artist sold out?

2010-06-30 17:07

Vulgar is an appropriate word to describe the marriage of New

York-based painter Kehinde Wiley and global sportswear brand Puma.


Wiley is a reputable artist who reportedly runs his two studios

like a factory, with an army of assistants who ensure that his work is churned

out for quick sale.


This young Californian native, who is connected to Africa via his

Nigerian father, flew to Cape Town when his four decorative paintings went on

show.


This Puma commission was to coincide with the soccer World Cup as

part of its grand marketing plan.


Wiley’s large paintings depict three celebrated African soccer

players individually and together in the Unity Painting.


Wiley, who has charmed the United States arts circuit, has in

essence disfigured his signature portraiture of modern black men by using it to

sell the Puma brand.


He’s dressed the soccer players in Puma’s African Unity Kit, which

bears the brand’s logo.


This kit is on sale alongside Puma shoes and clothing that Wiley

has designed.


The Cape Town installation of paintings, T-shirts, shoes, photos

and videos imposes that Puma consumes and should be consumed.


Behind-the-scenes photos show Wiley interacting with the soccer

players he painted. It also shows camera crews crowding the process, fuelling

the machinery to document every aspect of it for mass consumption.


Wiley’s earlier works had more credibility. When he met his

Nigerian father after almost two decades of separation, he decided to paint

portraits of his dad.


This set him on a path of transporting images of young black men

into a range of settings they would usually not dominate. Those were a statement

in so many ways.


In contrast, Wiley’s artistic statement about these paintings is

dead boring.


“Africa has been drawn apart for a number of years ... it’s very

poignant to have moments in which African countries and sports players can come

together,” he says, referring to his paintings.


The images may as well have been hung in a Puma shop or one of

those curio tourist stops on Long Street a block up from the makeshift

exhibition space where Cape Town’s pretentious hipsters did not disappoint on

opening night.


»Legends Of Unity runs at

Studio One, 186 Bree Street, Cape Town, until July 3.

 

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