Kehinde Wiley | The World Stage: Israel




The first major exhibition in San Francisco
featuring this nationally–known African American artist
February 14–May 27, 2013

San Francisco, CA, January 1, 2013— The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) presents Kehinde Wiley | The World Stage: Israel, the first major exhibition in San Francisco of African American artist Kehinde Wiley (b. 1977)—one of the most significant young artists working today. Wiley is known for vibrant, large-scale paintings of young, urban, T-shirt clad men of color he encounters on streets around the world and renders in the heroic poses typical of classical European portraiture.

The exhibition is part of the artist’s ambitious and multifaceted series, The World Stage, that has taken him to China, India, Brazil, and beyond, in an exploration of diasporas, identity, cultural hybridity, and power. The eighteen portraits in Kehinde Wiley | The World Stage: Israel depict men of diverse religions and ethnicities influenced by urban culture, who Wiley met in Israel—Ethiopian Jews and Jewish and Arab Israelis. Wiley has placed these subjects against vivid, ornate backgrounds inspired by Jewish textiles and papercuts, and has finished each with a hand-carved wooden frame crowned with emblems borrowed from Jewish decorative tradition.

As part of the exhibition, the CJM is including a selection of historical textiles and works on paper, like those from which Wiley draws inspiration, borrowed from The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at UC Berkeley, and the Skirball Museum, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles.

Kehinde Wiley

Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, Wiley early on encountered the world of classical European portraiture in the galleries of the Huntington Library, which he frequented as part of free weekend art classes his mother enrolled him in when he was eleven years old. The works in the Huntington collection had a profound impact on him. “It was sheer spectacle, and of course beauty. I had no way of digesting it. But at the same time, there was this desire to somehow possess it or belong to it,” says Wiley.

Wiley went on to earn his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute (1999) and MFA from Yale University (2001) and became an Artist-in-Residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem. It was in Harlem that Wiley formulated and consolidated his unique vision and approach to portraiture, catalyzed by the daily procession of over-the-top urban fashion and male bravado he witnessed on 125th Street and by a chance encounter with a cast-off piece of paper.

“It was a mug shot of an African American man in his twenties and it made me begin to think about portraiture in a radically different way,” says Wiley. “I began thinking about this mug shot itself as portraiture in a very perverse sense, a type of marking, a recording of one’s place in the world in time. And I began to start thinking about a lot of the portraiture that I had enjoyed from the eighteenth century and noticed the difference between the two: how one is positioned in a way that is totally outside their control, shut down and relegated to those in power, whereas those in the other were positioning themselves in states of stately grace and self-possession.”

It was then that Wiley began to apply the visual vocabulary and conventions of glorification, history, wealth, and prestige to the representation of a group of people absent from museum walls—urban black and brown men. He emerged on the art scene in 2003 with a series of portraits of young Harlem men staged in grand poses of the European portrait tradition while dressed in the baggy jeans and logo-emblazoned T-shirts so pervasive on the street. In what is now a signature component of his portraits, the subjects vie for visual attention with the vibrant, richly detailed patterns that fill the background and often threaten to overtake the figures.

In order to find appropriate models, Wiley began what he calls “street casting” for black males between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, who exhibit a certain type of alpha-male energy and even homoerotic beauty. The men come to his studio where they leaf through illustrated art history books to choose a figure that serves as the model for the pose they want to emulate. They are then photographed in that stance. Their choice of clothing is entirely their own. Wiley uses various views from the photo shoots to create his portraits.

Beginning in 2006, Wiley expanded his vision with his series The World Stage, traveling the globe to explore the black diaspora and the global phenomenon of urban African American youth culture, something he has found to be a powerful and persistent means by which people interact with American culture. His focus has been on countries that he believes are part of the conversation in the twenty-first century. The resulting series of paintings from China, India, Brazil, Senegal, Nigeria, and Israel each uniquely map the models within their native or adopted countries and explore their local culture, incorporating aspects of regional history, traditional patterns and designs, and sly nods to the social and political milieu in which they live. “I wanted to mine where the world is right now,” Wiley explains, “and chart the presence of black and brown people throughout the world.”

Wiley now lives and works between New York and Beijing. His paintings are in the collections of over forty museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Hammer Museum, High Museum of Art, and Brooklyn Museum. His work has been the subject of numerous monographs including a comprehensive Rizzoli publication released in 2012.

The Exhibition

For The World Stage: Israel, Wiley scouted for subjects in the discos, malls, bars, and sporting venues of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Lod in 2010. The eighteen portraits in the exhibition present a kaleidoscopic picture of contemporary Israeli diversity, a society at the physical and symbolic intersection of Africa, Europe, and Asia. Wiley’s subjects are from diverse religions and ethnicities—Israeli Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and Israeli Arabs—revealing an Israel that is more ethnically diverse and globally attuned than most people might realize.

Many of Wiley’s models for The World Stage: Israel are Beta Israel—Jews from Ethiopia—whose families immigrated to Israel (made aliyah) in the 1980s and 1990s during Operation Moses and Operation Solomon, two Israeli-sponsored airlifts. A featured figure in several of the paintings is Kalkidan Mashasha, a popular Ethiopian hip-hop musician who has used music as a means of understanding his Ethiopian Jewish Israeli identity and the repression he initially felt in his adopted country.

For this series, Wiley has placed his models against ornate backgrounds inspired by the decorative patterns of Jewish textiles and papercuts, an intricate form of folk and ceremonial art. Wiley chose the designs for their decorative and symbolic impact.

Wiley also designed hand-carved wooden frames crowned with emblems borrowed from the Jewish decorative tradition: the hands of a priest (Kohen) and the Lion of Judah, symbolizing blessing, power, and majesty. Each frame also supports text. For the portraits of Jewish men the Ten Commandments are used. For Arab men, Wiley chose the plea of Rodney King, victim of a police beating that sparked race riots in the artist’s home city of Los Angeles in 1991: “Can we all get along?”

Also on view as part of the exhibition is a selection of historical textiles and works on paper like those from which Wiley has drawn inspiration. The traditional works from the collection of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at UC Berkeley and the Skirball Museum, Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles, include lavishly decorated Torah ark curtains and intricate papercuts.

A short documentary film detailing Wiley’s travel to Israel to create the works in the exhibition is also on view.

Items available in the Museum Store include skateboard decks ($79), dog tag necklaces ($18), and beach towels ($95) featuring select portraits from the exhibition. Limited edition marble busts ($1400-$1600) will also be available as well as catalogs for Wiley’s various World Stage series ($40) and a beautifully illustrated monograph published by Rizzoli in 2012 ($65).

Kehinde Wiley | The World Stage: Israel is organized by the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco. Major support for this exhibition has been provided by the Columbia Foundation and The Jim Joseph Foundation. Supporting sponsorship has been provided by Siesel Maibach and Eta and Sass Somekh.

The Koret and Taube Foundations are the Lead Supporters of the 2012/13 exhibition season.




Exhibition Opening and Launch Party
Kehinde Wiley
| The World Stage: Israel 

Wednesday, Feb 13 | 7:30–10:30pm

$100 general (includes Museum admission); Advance tickets highly recommended

Celebrate the opening of Kehinde Wiley | The World Stage: Israel with an art bash like no other featuring world-class performances, dining, drinks, and a first look at the exhibition.

Performing for the first time in the Bay Area that night, Ethiopian-Israeli hip-hop artist Kalkidan Mashasha who is the subject of several of Kehinde Wiley’s portraits in The World Stage: Israel, comes to the Museum direct from Israel to share his hard hitting beats and rhymes. Then Israeli Freestyle Champion DJ Alarm spins international tunes to keep the party jumping.

Sponsorships are also available starting at $1,000; include multiple tickets and access to an ultrachic VIP lounge that night. A private dinner with Kehinde Wiley also takes place on February 13 at the W Hotel Terrace at 5:30pm. Tickets for the dinner start at $2,500. For information about sponsorship or tickets to the private dinner email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 415.655.7837.

Artist Talk
We Heart Kehinde

Thursday, Feb 14 | 6:30–8pm

$15 General; Advance tickets highly recommended

Passion and art collide for this Valentine’s Day-inspired talk with world-renowned artist Kehinde Wiley and author Michelle Tea.

Conversations with Artists: Francesco Spagnolo on Traditional Judaica and the Art of Kehinde Wiley

Friday, Mar 8 | 1–2:30pm

Free with Museum admission

Francesco Spagnolo, Curator of Collections at The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at UC Berkeley, talks with CJM’s Writer-in-Residence Daniel Schifrin about the historical Judaica—papercuts and textiles—that inspired the decorative painted backgrounds in Kehinde Wiley’s exhibition The World Stage: Israel.

In Art-Making: Papercuts and Portraits

Sundays, Mar 3, 10, & 17 | 1–3pm

Free with Museum admission

Inspired by the larger-than-life portraits in Kehinde Wiley | The World Stage: Israel, combine paper-cutting and textured painting to create your own fantastic work of art.

Drop-In Art-Making: Passover Freedom Papercuts and Portraits

Sundays, Mar 24 & 31 | 1–3pm

Free with Museum admission

Celebrate the multiple meanings of the Passover holiday and current exhibition Kehinde Wiley | The World Stage: Israel. Explore symbols of Passover, freedom, and spring as you combine paper-cutting and textured painting to embellish portraits of freedom heroes past and present.

Interacting with the Overlooked

Sunday, Mar 31 | 3–5pm   

Free (teens only)

San Francisco artist Hugh Leeman uses public space, the internet, and interactions with strangers on the street to craft a powerful portrait of the twenty-first century. Leeman will discuss street art activism, using QR codes in art to help the poor, and how to create portraits with carbon soot emissions. Workshop also includes a hands-on lesson on Leeman’s self-taught, and Kehinde Wiley-inspired, style of creating portraits.


About the Contemporary Jewish Museum

With the opening of its new building on June 8, 2008, the Contemporary Jewish Museum ushered in a new chapter in its twenty-plus year history of engaging audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The facility, designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, is a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in hands-on activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase “L’Chaim” (To Life), the building is a physical embodiment of the CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.

Major support for the Contemporary Jewish Museum comes from the Koret and Taube Foundations, who are the Lead Supporters of the 2012/13 exhibition season. The Museum also thanks The Jim Joseph Foundation for its major support of innovative strategies for educating and engaging audiences in Jewish learning. Additional major support is provided by the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; Bank of America; Institute of Museum and Library Services; Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund; Columbia Foundation; Walter and Elise Haas Fund; Gaia Fund; The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Osterweis Capital Management; The Skirball Foundation; Target; and the Alexander M. and June L. Maisin Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. The Museum also receives major support from the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties.

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Contemporary Jewish Museum

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General Information

The Museum is open daily (except Wednesday) 11am–5pm and Thursday, 1–8pm. Museum admission is $12 for adults; $10 for students and senior citizens with a valid ID; and $5 on Thursdays after 5pm. Youth 18 and under are always free. For general information on the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the public may visit the Museum’s website at or call 415.655.7800. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is located at 736 Mission Street (between Third and Fourth streets), San Francisco.

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736 Mission Street (btwn. 3rd and 4th Streets), San Francisco, CA 94103 | Hours: Daily 11am–5pm, Thursdays 11am–8pm, Closed Wednesdays | 415.655.7800 |