They’re not saints, exactly, but Mr. Wiley is asking you to look at the young African American men you pass in your everyday life in a slightly different way – through the lens of Byzantine icons and Medieval stained glass. The icons and would-be saints are magnificent, proud, and mysterious, just like his slightly earlier portraits that are grace the walls of Lucious Lyon’s mansion in the hit series Empire.
The Cantor Gallery is filled with these men of higher purpose, and the crowds love it. Bronze busts echo the 18th century marble work of Houdon, and visitors check them out from all angles.Beyond this gallery, the curators have assembled a survey of Mr. Wiley’s 14-year career – dominated by his giant canvases in which guys from the neighborhood take on the heroic poses of European aristocrats and conquerors. In fact, when he began, Wiley would scan neighborhood streets for handsome, statuesque subjects and ask them if they would feel comfortable posing as other-era men of means in his painting studio. Those who said yes were asked to select the person they felt comfortable emulating from Wiley’s library of art books on European portraiture.
Elsewhere in the show are Wiley’s first-ever bronze sculpture of female subjects and selections from his world tour, where he found portrait subjects in Israel, Palestine, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. Check out some of the works in our Flickr feed and on the museum website.
Although it’s common to see a gigantic Wiley portrait in another museum these days, Brooklyn is proud that it was among the first to collect his work. If you journey to another floor, you’ll see a five-panel painting installed on a ceiling like some Renaissance master’s and several portraits from his Passing/Posing series in 2003.
If you can’t get to Brooklyn to see this show, let Mr. Wiley take you through the exhibition via video: