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NEWS ID: 728
Date: 2018-02-09 14:42:22
Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps
Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps

Kehinde Wiley

Critics often read Wiley’s painting, and his production as a whole, as a powerful questioning of Western art history. As the interpretation goes, Wiley rejects and upends the subjugated or inferior roles in which black or brown men have been represented and places them front and center. Yet as Wiley himself undoubtedly also knows, his work is more complex than this. This work, for example, both lampoons the hyper-masculinity of the original piece (Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps from 1801) but also subtly presents male sexuality as a subtext—something rarely seen in Western art history.

Wiley’s success is just one example of how African American art has become much more visible in American galleries, museums, and academia in recent years, after centuries of either exclusion or (at best) inconsistent representation. All the same, major issues remain—the amount of solo shows devoted to African American artists is also still quite small, and while values are increasing for works by historical and contemporary African American artists, this work is still heavily undervalued by the art world compared to the work of white artists of similar accomplishments or career status.

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