Kehinde Wiley permanent public art installation unveiled in new Moynihan Train Hall
Sean Kelly Gallery is delighted to announce Kehinde Wiley’s major permanent public art installation, Go, one of three site-specific art installations in the new Moynihan Train Hall, which opens to the public on January 1, 2021. As part of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s visionary transformation of one of New York City’s most important and largest transportation hubs, the artworks have been commissioned through a partnership between Empire State Development (New York’s economic development agency) and Public Art Fund (the leading non-profit that commissions and presents art in public spaces). A testament to the city’s creativity, diversity, and richly layered heritage, the three monumental commissions complement the new cutting-edge Train Hall, while highlighting its civic character.
Commanding the expansive ceiling of the 33rd Street Midblock Entrance Hall, Kehinde Wiley’s hand-painted glass triptych celebrates the vibrancy and virtuosity of bodies in motion on a monumental scale. Go is an exuberant depiction of young, Black New Yorkers in poses drawing their inspiration from breakdance, the modern dance style which originated on the streets of New York during the 1960s and 70s among African American and Latino youth. Wiley references the classical European tradition of frescoed ceilings, using a pronounced foreshortening technique (often associated with 18th century master Giovanni Battista Tiepolo) to create the impression of figures ascending to the heavens. He captures them mid-gesture amidst billowing clouds, pigeons, and a jet plane. Lunging and twisting through the brilliant blue sky, their poses embody a combination of precision, athleticism, and expression inherent to this performative dance style.
Wiley casts his subjects in roles traditionally reserved for saints and angels, depicting them instead as unique individuals attired in their regular streetwear. These contemporary avatars of the sublime appear to defy gravity, yet their abilities are familiar to any New Yorker, an image of joy at the intersection of the epic and the intimate. Go extends the metaphorical language of light and divinity to reveal the talent, beauty, and power of Black bodies. Translating the urban environment into a celestial dreamscape, Wiley communicates an optimistic spirit of buoyancy, possibility, and survival.
Over the last two decades, Kehinde Wiley has garnered world-wide recognition for his naturalistic paintings of Black and Brown people in poses and formats which whilst drawing on the Western art historical canon appropriates and rewrites its history to be inclusive. He has often invited young people he encounters in urban centers around the world to adopt a pose of their choosing from portraits of European old masters, underscoring complicated and enduring socio-political histories that have determined the exclusion of people of color from much of that very art history. In recent years, Wiley has expanded his practice to the genres of statuary and public monuments as well as the medium of stained glass. The three-part, backlit work, Go, responds astutely to its architectural context, echoing Moynihan Train Hall’s skylights and incorporating details of the ornamental ironwork from the building’s façade into the elaborate molding that frames the composition. Go is Wiley’s first permanent, site-specific installation in glass.