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Kehinde Wiley in London

“The prelude” is the solo exhibition dedicated to the American artist Kehinde Wiley in London at The National Gallery.
The show presents to the visitors five paintings and one six-channel digital film.
A contemporary touch explores and reveals his artistic conventions and canons of the Western landscape tradition (mountainous, coastal, sublime, Romantic and transcendental) through the mediums of film and painting.
Wiley ‘ll explore European Romanticism and its focus on epic scenes of oceans and mountains, humankind’s relationship with nature and in the process touches upon current concerns such as climate change and migration.
One section of the film included in this project will feature Black Londoners that Wiley met and cast for the film on the streets around the National Gallery and whom he took on a trip to Norway to explore its fjords and glacial landscapes. Mountains can be perceived as something to be conquered. They can also be seen as impenetrable places, the highest places on earth and consequently the closest to the heavens, associated with virtue, rationality, purity and godliness. In this film In Search of the Miraculous the Black female and male characters are, in turns, overwhelmed by the snow, subsumed by whiteness and almost disappear in the landscape, or take centre stage and contemplate nature in a respectful and dignified way. His paintings reference the Romantic wanderer figure in search of spirituality or self-discovery.
Marine painting has long been linked to European maritime power and traditionally featured imperial endeavours, voyages of exploration, and typically emphasized the prowess of experienced seafarers or the bravery and leadership qualities of (white) naval officers. In Wiley’s work, oceans are seen as changing, irrational and unreliable forces which also can be used as trade routes, passages and escapes to a better life, and also represent the site of a defunct empire.
The exhibition situated in the Sunley Room, at the centre of the Gallery’s collection, draws out the dynamic relationship between Wiley’s work and the National Gallery’s historical landscapes and seascapes by artists such as Claude, Friedrich, Turner and Vernet.

Kehinde Wiley
The Prelude
The National Gallery, London
Sunley Room
10 December 2021 – 18 April 2022
Admission free
Opening hours Open to public:
Daily 10 am – 6 pm (last admission 5pm)
Fridays 10am – 9pm (last admission 8.15 pm)


Kehinde Wiley was born in 1977 in Los Angeles, USA. He lives and works in New York, Dakar, Senegal and Lagos.
Wiley engages the visual rhetoric of the powerful, majestic and sublime in his representation of contemporary African-American and African-Diasporic men and women, who adopt heroic poses directly referencing European and American portraiture. Whilst developing a compelling body of work for the exhibition ‘In Search of the Miraculous’, 2017, Wiley reinterpreted seascapes by J.M.W.Turner, Winslow Homer and Hieronymus Bosch. In the same year, the artist created his first film installation, ‘Narrenschiff’ a contemporary response to the ‘Ship of Fools’ allegory of the late 15th century.
The National Gallery exhibition follows Wiley’s solo exhibitions at The Box, Plymouth, UK in September 2020 and at William Morris Gallery, London in February 2020. Wiley had his first major survey exhibition in France in July 2020 at Centre d’art La Malmaison, Cannes.
Wiley was recently commissioned by Public Art Fund to create a large-scale site-specific artwork for the new Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station, New York. His illuminated stained-glass installation Go was unveiled at the station in December 2020. The artist’s monumental public sculpture Rumors of War was temporarily situated at Times Square, New York in September 2019, before being permanently installed at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia in December 2019. In 2018 the Smithsonian Institution unveiled Kehinde Wiley’s official portrait of Barack Obama for the Presidential Portrait Commission at National Portrait Gallery, Washington, DC. This painting is touring the USA alongside Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama in The Obama Portraits Tour until May 2022.
From 2015-17 Wiley had a major ongoing touring exhibition titled Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic which visited Brooklyn Museum, New York; Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas; Seattle Art Museum, Washington; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Virginia; Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona; Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio; and Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma. Exhibitions of Wiley’s vast and celebrated body of work The World Stage, have taken place in numerous galleries between 2007 and 2014. For this project, Wiley temporarily relocated to different countries and opened satellite studio to familiarise himself with the area’s culture and history before creating portraits of the local people. Wiley received his MFA from Yale University in 2001. Shortly after, he became an Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York. In 2015 he was awarded the US State Department Medal of Arts. In 2018 he received the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal at Harvard University, Massachusetts. In June 2019 he was honoured by The Gordon Parks Foundation, New York. Wiley is the Founder and President of Black Rock Senegal, a non-profit artist in residence program located in Dakar, Senegal.
Kehinde Wiley is represented by Stephen Friedman Gallery, London, and the exhibition is assisted by Stephen Friedman Gallery and Galerie Templon, Paris-Brussels.

by Alain Chivilò