Boca Museum Displays Works by Obama Portrait Artist Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley's "Gypsy Fortune Teller"

Three men lay relaxed on the ground, one conversing with a man leaning in. Next to him, a man in a baby blue basketball jersey holds a parasol. Leaves of ivy weave through the five subjects, and the piece is framed by images of nature.

It’s a piece and a world that could only be conjured by artist Kehinde Wiley.

Known as “Gypsy Fortune Teller,” the large 2007 Jacquard tapestry (pictured above) is a part of the Boca Museum of Art’s “Nomadic Murals: Contemporary Tapestries and Carpets” exhibit, on display through Oct. 21. For museum assistant curator Lanya Snyder, it’s Wiley’s “distinct vivid use of color and ability to make his subjects, despite their history and stature, iconic figures” that makes his work so powerful.

The New York City-based artist is far from new to the art scene, but his career was catapulted to new heights when he was chosen to do former President Barack Obama’s official portrait, hanging at the National Portrait Gallery alongside a portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama, painted by Amy Sherald.

Wiley and Sherald were the first black artists to create official portraits for the gallery, and their works are unlike any that precede the Obamas’.

Wiley is best known for using everyday black models as his inspiration, where he puts them in the roles of heroes inspired by the style classical European paintings, creating a sense of grandeur with highly ornate details and floral centerpieces. He his series “The World Stage” also highlights people from around the world.

“There was something absolutely heroic and fascinating about being able to feel a certain relationship to the institution and the fact that these people happen to look like me on some level,” Wiley said on his website.

This is the not the first time that the Boca Museum has shown Wiley’s works—his 2005 “Passing Posing – Big Daddy Kane” was on loan to the museum in 2015. Wiley was commissioned by VH1 in 2005 to create the rapper’s portrait for its annual Hip Hop Honors.

This year, the museum acquired Wiley’s 2010 oil painting “Annoyed Radha With Her Friends,” which will be on permanent display thanks to funding from long-time museum board member Beatrice Cummings Mayer.

Kehinde Wiley, "Annoyed Radha with her Friends," 2010 (Photo by Jacek Gancarz)
Kehinde Wiley, “Annoyed Radha with her Friends,” 2010 (Photo by Jacek Gancarz)

“The painting had been in the collection of Gordon Locksley (who lived in Fort Lauderdale) and was one of the last works he acquired before his passing in 2014,” said museum director Irvin Lippman. “I knew the painting and made arrangements for its purchase from Gordon’s husband, Wayne Boeck.”

The Boca Museum is under construction, but is still open. Check out Wiley and other artists’ work at 501 Plaza Real, Boca Raton; 561/392-2500; bocamuseum.org