Copper in the Arts

December 2019

Rumors of War Sculpture Debuts in New York

By Paul David

Rumors of War, the first monumental public bronze sculpture by artist Kehinde Wiley was recently unveiled in Times Square, New York on the Broadway Plaza between 46th and 47th Streets.

The public art piece was sponsored in part by Times Square Arts and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). After its exhibition in Times Square, Rumors of War will be permanently installed on historic Arthur Ashe Boulevard in Richmond at the entrance to the VMFA as a recent acquisition to the museum’s world-class collection.  

Times_Square_Sculpture.jpgRumors of War in Times Square.
Photo courtesy of Kehinde Wiley.

Wiley, a world-renowned visual artist, is best known for portraying contemporary African-American and African-Diasporic individuals that subvert the hierarchies and conventions of European and American portraiture. In 2017, Wiley was commissioned to paint a portrait of former President Barack Obama for the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.  

Rumors of War is his largest work to date, continuing Wiley’s legacy of investigating the politics of representation, race, gender, and power.  

“The inspiration for Rumors of War is war—is an engagement with violence,” Wiley states. “Art and violence have for an eternity held a strong narrative grip with each other. Rumors of War attempts to use the language of equestrian portraiture to both embrace and subsume the fetishization of state violence. New York and Times Square in particular sit at the crossroads of human movement on a global scale. To have the Rumors of War sculpture presented in such a context lays bare the scope and scale of the project in its conceit to expose the beautiful and terrible potentiality of art to sculpt the language of domination.”

With this new sculpture, Wiley returns to equestrian portraiture to engage its complicated visual rhetoric of warfare and heroism on an epic scale.

“We are incredibly excited to be working with Wiley, one of the most celebrated and important artists of our time, and one uniquely equipped to challenge how we use our public space, to ask the critical question of "who matters?", and to speak to the power of monuments to reflect and reinforce our values, and ultimately, reimagine our world,” states Tim Tompkins, Times Square Alliance President. "We are honored to be premiering this historic work, and to join the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in supporting Wiley’s contribution to this important national conversation."

The state of Virginia has more memorials to the Confederacy than any other state in the country. As with many Confederate monuments, erected in the aftermath of Reconstruction, their function was meant to not only memorialize the dead but also to reestablish a social order. This also accounts for the relatively few monuments that recognize women and people of color, making the VMFA a powerful place to site Wiley’s historic work.

VMFA Director Alex Nyerges states, "The installation of Rumors of War at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in December will be a historic moment for our museum and for the city of Richmond. We hope that the sculpture will encourage public engagement and civic discussion about who is memorialized in our nation and the significance of monuments in the context of American history. We are especially pleased that through the acquisition of this work, the monuments in Richmond will further reflect the incredible diversity of its population."

Resources:

Kehinde Wiley, New York, NY

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