Kehinde Wiley; Roberts & Tilton

Article excerpt

Tiepolo's oval-shape Apotheosis of Admiral Vettor Pisani, ca. 1743, depicts our Italian military hero being introduced by Venus to Jupiter and Mars; all float together amid auroral light, puffy clouds, and cute putti. Two of Kehinde Wiley's most recent paintings, Apotheosis of Admiral Vettor Pisani #1 and #2 (all works 2003), center a handsome lone black dude in a field of color against a pattern at once heraldic, Islamic, and Gucciesque. Vettor Pisani #1 mugs in a white T-shirt and baggy jeans against a vibrant red ground with turquoise fleurs-de-lis while six blush roses make a sort of arch; Vettor Pisani #2 sports a hot orange hoodie at a quasi-Hindu altar of sperm against a background that fades from navy to robin's-egg blue. Baroque-ish gilded frames situate these flashy, Vegas-y paintings as the spunky start of, well, something.

Not completely blinded by all the bling bling and despite such exhibition titles as "Passing/Posing" and "Faux/Real," I'd like to point out that most talk (even the artist's own) about the work restricts itself to references to the baroque, to Tiepolo and Titian, to the sublime. But if this is contempo baroque, it's sponsored as much by Donatella Versace as by Carl Philip von Greifenklau. While Wiley's figures strike poses suggesting icono-religious significance, these postures are not to be found in Tiepolo; the sublimity here is less Edmund Burke than Delta Burke. At work is more a bizarre sublimation, as florid art-historical footnoting marks a displacement of a lack/surplus of something much more telling.

Among the sudden ejaculations of blurbs and interviews, I've read only a single thing on Wiley's paintings that bothers to mention an erotic, despite the voguing so flam-boyantly apparent. "I can't tell if he's some kind of straight guy passing for a macho or a queen passing for a butch fag or a queer passing for straight or what," Jaime Cortez writes. Even more dizzying is Bontu Thompson's line: "If you ask Russell Simmons who's his favorite new painter, best believe Kehinde Wiley is the first name out of his lisp. …