Kehinde Wiley: The Prelude ★★★★ The National Gallery | Dec 10, 2021 - Apr 18, 2022 (Free Entry)


This small exhibition occupies only two rooms at The National Gallery, but this does not stop Kehinde Wiley from exploring expansive, universal themes. The first room of the show presents five large paintings which challenge and question the Western landscape tradition. Inspired by Caspar David Friedrich and Winslow Homer, Wiley's works avoid parody while placing issues of ethnicity and identity in the context of the canon. The appearance of black figures in traditional landscape settings sets up a fascinating dialogue with the European cultural inheritance and its social and political roots. However, Wiley does not allow these questions to subsume an even larger commentary on humanity's relation to the natural world and its spiritual implication. This transcendental theme is further investigated in the second room which offers a film showing black figures in the whiteness of a winter landscape. The reference to Wordsworth in the title of this installation again extends the enquiry beyond quotidian and into a larger realm. For us, this inspired, contemplative piece was somewhat undermined by the voice-overs and the inclusion of the fire sequence, but the monumental nature of Wiley's work cannot be denied. Visitors to The National Gallery should definitely not miss this exhibition. While offering a commentary on the permanent collection, its rewards are so much greater.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Image: Production photo from on-location filming in Norway for Prelude, 2020. © Kehinde Wiley

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