"Jacques-Louis David Meets Kehinde Wiley" at Brooklyn Museum Challenges the History of Western Portraiture

Art Talk
January 28, 2020

For the first time ever, Kehinde Wiley’s iconic Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps (2005) painting is now on view alongside its original inspiration, Jacques-Louis David’sBonaparte Crossing the Alps (1800–1), in a new exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in partnership with Musée national des châteaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau. Titled “Jacques-Louis David Meets Kehinde Wiley,” the exhibition pits the artists’ two impactful works against each other in order to explore “how ideas of race, masculinity, representation, power, and agency have played out across the history of Western portraiture.”

By comparing and contrasting Wiley and David’s pieces — which were created over 200 years apart — the museum seeks to point out the critical ways in which the former depicts stature and culture as it pertains to the Black experience in the present day. Wiley notably replaces Napoleon, a white man of French heritage, with a Black man who embodies many of the lifestyle elements and fashion cues familiar to individuals of the African diaspora, swapping traditional battle gear for Timberland boots, a bandana, athletic wristbands, camouflage streetwear and more. The ensuing juxtaposition questions the historical canon of art, which has often lacked a multicultural lens and “routinely overlooked the collective Black cultural experience.”

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