- American Express has commissioned Julie Mehretu and Kehinde Wiley to design the corporation’s new card.
- Mehretu’s work interrogates racial injustices while Wiley subverts eurocentric ideals dominating art history.
- The two designs will be unveiled during Art Basel Miami Beach before they're made available to American Express Platinum Card holders from January 2022.
On 29 October 2020, credit card company, American Express announced its decision to allocate $1 billion toward advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion for employees, customers and associated communities. “Central to this commitment is standing up against racism and eliminating barriers that have prevented people of all racial, ethnic and gender identities from having equal opportunities to pursue their aspiration,” said Stephen J. Squeri, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer.
As a part of this, American Express has commissioned Julie Mehretu and Kehinde Wiley to design the corporation’s new Platinum card.
During the announcement, Thelma Golden, the director and chief curator of Studio Museum congratulated Mehretu and Wiley for being innovators. “What’s important about these artists is the way in which they’ve opened new paths, new ways of thinking,” said Golden. “Their art has changed the way we think about art, but it also changes the way we see the world.”
On large-scale canvases, Mehretu layers, erases and relayers ink, pencil and acrylic paint to conjure Abstract Expressionism. All this to examine the politics of inner cities like Johannesburg's Braamfontein, Hillbrow, Jeppestown, Marshalltown and Yeoville. Referencing city planning, housing, public spaces and amenities, Mehretu’s work interrogates racial injustice, spatial apartheid, migration and displacement. Her work regularly sells for seven-figure prices.
A portrait painter, Kehinde Wiley is known for taking well known portraits and sculptures with white subjects and restaging with Black characters in contemporary settings. He is best known for being commissioned to paint Barack Obama’s presidential portrait. Subverting the whiteness that so long dominated Western art history, the subjects in Wiley's portraits sit against African textile patterned backgrounds.
Both artists are black.
In addition to the commission, American Express is giving Studio Museum $1 million to support artists’ pursuits. Devoted to supporting, promoting and preserving the work of African American artists, Studio Museum received the cheque based on the recommendation of America Express’s former CEO Kenneth Chenault, and his wife Kathryn who are patrons of the museum.
Every year, Studio Museum hosts three artists for the duration of 11 months. With access to a private studio space, the artists are encouraged to work toward an exhibition of their work at the end of the residency. Taking place since 1970, the programme has hosted over 150 artists including Kerry James Marshall, David Hammons, Simone Leigh, Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Lauren Halsey. Between 2000 and 20002, Mehretu and Wiley also participated in the museum’s artist-in-residency programme.
“What the Studio Museum did, and what we’re trying to do at Denniston Hill is create places where new futures are formed,” offered Mehretu. “They became important because they don’t exist—they haven’t existed in the past. The Studio Museum created a platform for us to have a very different platform and provide a different future.”
The two card designs will be unveiled now in December 2021, during Art Basel Miami Beach. The will then be made available to American Express Platinum Card holders from January 2022.