While we have seen images of the Kehinde Wiley sculpture, Rumors of War, the images don’t do justice to this stunning, visually imposing new installation on the plaza at 46th Street and Broadway in Times Square.
With this sculpture, the artist continues his artistic investigation, focusing on politics, race, gender and power. Rumors of War is Wiley’s largest work to date, carrying with it an even larges message, as Wiley states, “The inspiration for Rumors of War is war—is an engagement with violence. Art and violence have for an eternity held a strong narrative grip with each other. Rumors of War attempts to use the language of equestrian portraiture to both embrace and subsume the fetishization of state violence. New York and Times Square in particular sit at the crossroads of human movement on a global scale. To have the Rumors of War sculpture presented in such a context lays bare the scope and scale of the project in its conceit to expose the beautiful and terrible potentiality of art to sculpt the language of domination.”
Times Square Alliance President Tim Tompkins states “We are incredibly excited to be working with Wiley, one of the most celebrated and important artists of our time, and one uniquely equipped to challenge how we use our public space, to ask the critical question of “who matters?”, and to speak to the power of monuments to reflect and reinforce our values, and ultimately, reimagine our world. We are honored to be premiering this historic work, and to join the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in supporting Wiley’s contribution to this important national conversation.”
The project originated when the artist encountered the equestrian monument to Confederate States Army general James Ewell Brown “J.E.B.” Stuart while visiting Richmond, Virginia for the opening of Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic at the VMFA in June 2016. A few blocks away from the museum is Monument Avenue, a nationally landmarked boulevard lined with Confederate statues, including monuments to Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson. These monuments have a particular resonance because they function to continually commemorate the Confederacy.
The state of Virginia has more memorials to the Confederacy than any other state in the country. As with many Confederate monuments, erected in the aftermath of Reconstruction, their function was meant to not only memorialize the dead, but also to reestablish a social order. This also accounts for the relatively few monuments that recognize women and people of color, making the VMFA a powerful place to site Wiley’s historic work.
VMFA Director Alex Nyerges states, “The installation of Rumors of War at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts later this year will be a historic moment for our museum and for the city of Richmond. We hope that the sculpture will encourage public engagement and civic discussion about who is memorialized in our nation and the significance of monuments in the context of American history. We are especially pleased that through the acquisition of this work, the monuments in Richmond will further reflect the incredible diversity of its population.”
Kehinde Wiley: Rumors of War will be on view from September 27 through December 1, 2019 in Times Square at 46th Street and Broadway. Following its presentation in Times Square, Rumors of War will be permanently installed on historic Arthur Ashe Boulevard in Richmond at the entrance to the VMFA, a recent acquisition to the museum’s world-class collection.
Rumors of War is presented by Times Square Arts in partnership with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) and Sean Kelly, New York. Support for Rumors of War is provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts; the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature; and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
We can not leave this post without a mention of Kehinde Wiley’s 2018 portrait of Barack Obama, on view at the National Portrait Gallery. You might also like to know that the artist who painted Michelle Obama, Amy Sherald, currently has an exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Chelsea, entitled Amy Sherald: the heart of the matter……. on view through October 26, 2019.