Since the turn of the new millennium, Kehinde Wiley (b. 1977), American celeb artist of the moment, has delivered a broadly appealing oeuvre to the center of the art world on a silver platter. Like other fans, a majority of art cognoscenti have been seduced by Wiley’s celebratory, formal portraits of self-styled young black men set against bright, patterned backdrops. Some, however, have been skeptical of not only the accessibility and somewhat pedagogical subject matter vis-à-vis the contemporary black male in life and representation, but also his retro photorealist technique and resultant flat style. The artist’s first retrospective offered a chance to consider these and other issues regarding form and content in his oeuvre thus far; this critique suggests that, while still developing, his pattern-heavy painting especially reveals commitment to exuberant opticality as well as topical visual commentary on race, which consciously crosses between high and popular culture and audiences.

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