Kehinde Wiley's Regal Paintings of Israeli Men Get Wall-Time at the Jewish Museum

Kehinde Wiley's "Abed Al Ashe and Chaled El Awari (The World Stage: Israel)," 2011
(© Kehinde Wiley; Courtesy Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA)

WHAT: Kehinde Wiley’s “The World Stage: Israel”

WHEN: March 9-July 29, Sunday-Tuesday 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Thursday 11:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., Friday 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-5:45 p.m.


WHERE: The Jewish Museum, 1109 5th Avenue at 92nd Street, New York

WHY THIS SHOW MATTERS: Kehinde Wiley’s mission of capturing the essence of black masculinity, poise, and style continues in his most recent “World Stage” series, this time completed in Israel. Previously, Wiley has found subjects for this project in China, Lagos and Dakar, Brazil, and India and Sri Lanka. For the Israel leg, he has chosen to focus on the fusion of modern culture with the traditions of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East within the Israeli melting pot. The project, paintings of Israeli men amidst Jewish-themed textile patterns, itself sprang from the artist’s interests in globalization, diasporas, hybrid cultures, and power – what better place to explore these subjects than Israel. The Jewish Museum seemed to agree, and conceived of the exhibition after acquiring Wiley’s painting “Alios Itzhak” (2011), featuring a stunning Jewish Ethiopian-Israeli man illuminated by contrasting orange, blue, and yellow patterned animals, taken from a paper cut in the museum’s collection.

The other subjects don’t fail to shine in the most regal poses. Intertwined with the paintings are 11 pieces of Judaica from the museum’s collection, creating a context for the colorful motifs that frame the men in the paintings, like an Italian Torah ark curtain from Venice made of deep purple silk (1680-81). Wiley’s portraits continue outside the canvas with hand-carved wooden frames, each topped with Jewish emblems such as the hands of Kohen and the Lion of Judah. These decorative additives are not arbitrary, and bestow symbols of blessing, power, and majesty while the artist paints supportive texts into the patterning: the Ten Commandments for his Jewish subjects and the plea of Rodney King for those Arab.

The process of finding the men in discos, malls, bars, and sporting venues can also be seen in a nine-minute video of Wiley combing Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for models. The exhibition shows Wiley is truly at home in his medium and subject matter, and excelling as he widens his horizons across the globe. 

To see photos of works in Kehinde Wiley’s “The World Stage: Israel” at the Jewish Museum, click on the slide show.