The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will acquire Kehinde Wiley’s first piece of public art, “Rumors of War.”
The piece is specifically modeled after the monument to Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, which Wiley saw when he was visiting Richmond for his career retrospective “Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic” at the VMFA in June 2016.
“Kehinde Wiley became enamored with Richmond, the VMFA and particularly with Monument Avenue and the sculptures that populate it,” said Alex Nyerges, the director of the VMFA. “He was particularly struck by the monuments to the Confederate generals and the notion of the Lost Cause in the midst of a booming, 21st-century, hipster town. He was inspired by it and talked about it a lot. We didn’t realize at the time that it would result in this fantastic 21st-century take on monuments.”
Created on the same scale as the Stuart monument, which is roughly 30 feet tall and cast in bronze, “Rumors of War” is Wiley’s largest three-dimensional work to date.
Described as one of the “most recognized artists in the world,” Wiley painted the official presidential portrait of Barack Obama.
The 42-year-old artist built his career creating larger-than-life, regal portraits of minorities in classical poses, such as young African-American men in modern clothing, on horseback or holding swords, positioned in ways typically associated with wealthy and powerful white men.
His paintings reference the Old Masters, but he places his contemporary subjects in classical settings.
“His work builds on the iconography of power—how individuals are memorialized and edified,” said Valerie Cassel Oliver, the museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art. “He wanted to take what he does in the two-dimensional form and take it to the next level.”
Mounted on a stone pedestal, “Rumors of War” depicts a young African American in urban streetwear, sitting astride a massive horse in a striking pose. It will be unveiled in New York’s Times Square on Sept. 27.
After its presentation in New York, the sculpture will be prominently installed at VMFA’s entrance on Arthur Ashe Boulevard in December.
According to the release, the state of Virginia has more more memorials to the Confederacy than any other state in the country.
“It just seemed to be the right place to expand the conversation about monuments and who gets memorialized,” Oliver said. “What Kehinde Wiley does is celebrate the everyday person.”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held after the installation.