Denver Art Museum Displays Alternative Masculinities

When I was home in Colorado for Thanksgiving last week, I got the chance to swing by the Denver Art Museum and was thrilled at the quality and diversity of the modern art on display (including a sculpture by Kiki Smith, who I blogged about last week!).
Here are my two favorite pieces that I ran across in the permanent collection:

Fatherhood by Wes Hempel
Hempel on his current body of work:

I’ve actively cultivated this traditional look for a number of reasons. One of my ongoing projects (which I’ve written about at length elsewhere) is a re-visioning of what art history might have looked like had homosexuality not been vilified. A walk through any major museum will reveal paintings that depict or legitimate only certain kinds of experience. Despite the good intentions of critical theorists questioning the validity of the canon, paintings of the old masters on the walls of museums like the Met, the Louvre, Rijksmuseum still have a certain cache. They’re revered not just for their technique but because they enshrine our collective past experience.


Passing/Posing (Marriage of the Virgin) by Kehinde Wiley
The Getty on Wiley’s work:

Kehinde Wiley hot-wires the studied attitudes and dramatic backdrops of Old Master portraits with a Day-Glo palette and a hip-hop sensibility, creating a radical artistic mash-up that has been praised as hip, provocative, and technically brilliant. By asking his subjects to assume poses found in historical paintings and sculpture, he transforms ordinary urban men into saints, kings, even Christ. Wiley blurs the boundaries between traditional and contemporary, self-consciously celebrating and subverting the propaganda of self-aggrandisement in European art.

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8 Comments

  1. crshark
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I love the Wiley work, in particular the way it captures and displays the unself-conscious intimacy between the three young men.
    I don’t care for the Hempel work. The man shows little connection to the children all around him. He looks like he’s cradling a big screen TV in his lap rather than kids. It kind of looks like a photoshop.

  2. ScottRock
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    The man shows little connection to the children all around him.
    I agree with you–he actually looks terrified. I think this adds to the piece. Certainly an apt reflection of how many men view fatherhood.
    Ditto on Wiley, he’s great. Check out his gallery if you get a chance.

  3. Fake Sigi
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Denver’s contemporary collection truly sings. Personally, I find Rachel Lachowicz’s “One month late” to be very powerful and well done.
    There’s also a nice Wiley piece in the Columbus Museum of Art.

  4. Mike Crichton
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I think he looks more exhausted than terrified. And what parent with that many young kids _wouldn’t_ be?

  5. crshark
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    The adjective I would use to describe his expressions is mystified, like he’s thinking, “How did all these things get on my lap? And somebody better get me some Pampers before my floor gets messed up!”

  6. Debayani Kar
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Funny you all posted this today. We (at RaceWire) just posted about the Kehinde Wiley painting that Michael Jackson commissioned but never saw: http://www.racewire.org/archives/2009/12/kehinde_wileys_painting_michael_jackson_commissioned_but_never_saw.html

  7. Rugby Nick
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    For me that is a look of pure fear ‘what have you done to me’!
    Love it!!!

  8. Fat Old Man
    Posted December 3, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    I love the “Fatherhood” piece.
    I have a picture of my dad with me and my twin brother, both premies, in our week home. Face of pure shock.
    He was a fast learner, though. Four kids under the age of four, and he would come home and watch us while Mom went out with her friends.
    It was still a ’50s marriage – Dad off to the plant, Mom home with the little ones – but I used that picture to get past my own shock when I became a father, and I learned quickly to be a very hands-on dad to our own three bumbles of joy.

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