Kehinde Wiley

Leviathan Zodiac (The World Stage: Israel)


Oil and gold enamel on canvas

Acquired from the Collection of Blake Byrne, Los Angeles, Museum purchase with funds donated by the Collectors Circle for its 25th Anniversary with additional funds from Jim Sweeny

Kehinde Wiley subverts the traditional language of power by giving everyday people of color the poses and trappings of royalty, rulers, military leaders, and divinities. He draws inspiration from great works of portraiture across the history of art, and brings them into contemporary life. Here he transforms a young Israeli man through the grand gesture and stance of an ancient Roman emperor. Wiley reinforces this embodiment of command with a stylized, halo-like design of the Zodiacal symbols and an eel-like sea creature—the primeval and powerful Leviathan mentioned in the Bible.

This portrait is part of Wiley’s World Stage series which focuses upon people within complex and often troubled socio-political situations. In Israel, the artist found models at malls, clubs, and sporting events, noting“I saw young people trying to have a good night, dancing, falling in love. The state of Israel reminds me what America is about—a mixture of cultures.”

The painting features a hand-carved frame with the Ten Commandments, the paired hands of Hebrew priestly blessing, and the Lions of Judah, ancient symbols of Judaism.

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