MFA Acquires Masterful Painting by Kehinde Wiley

Leviathan Zodiac (The World Stage: Israel) 2011 by Kehinde Wiley  

Editor’s Note: The Museum of fine Arts, St. Petersburg will temporarily close to the public starting on Saturday, March 14, after President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus a national emergency in the United States. “The Museum of Fine Arts is committed to doing our part to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in our community,” said Kristen A. Shepherd, the museum’s executive director.  “This decision has been carefully considered, and is in line with how other arts and cultural institutions are handling this public health crisis,” said Ms. Shepherd.  With the temporary closure, the 23rd Annual Art in Bloom and its related events, Wearing Flower After Hours and Art in Bloom Luncheon, scheduled for March 26-30, have been canceled, the museum announced in an email.

The Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg has purchased a large-scale painting from Kehinde Wiley’s acclaimed portrait series, The World Stage: Israel.

The 2011 portrait, Leviathan Zodiac (The World Stage: Israel), now part of the MFA’s permanent collection, was acquired from the collection of Blake Byrne, Los Angeles. The painting was purchased with funds donated by the MFA support group, Collectors Circle, and arts supporter Jim Sweeny as part of the group’s 25th anniversary in 2020, according to the museum.

Mr. Wiley, whose paintings are among the most coveted artworks for contemporary collectors around the world, is best known by the general public for painting the official portrait of former President Barack Obama.

Leviathan Zodiac is an important addition to the museum’s holdings of works by African American artists. “The Collectors Circle’s gift marks the group’s 25th anniversary in 2020, and with this wonderful piece by Mr. Wiley, we are immensely proud to continue the tradition of bringing significant and exquisite artworks into the MFA Collection,” said Cynthia Astrack, president of the MFA’s Collectors Circle.

From the MFA: “Leviathan Zodiac (The World Stage: Israel) depicts an Israeli man in casual clothes, standing in the pose of a Greco-Roman ruler or military leader. He stands against — and is partly enveloped by — designs evoking traditional Jewish tapestries and paper cuttings, while his head is backed by a richly worked nimbus, or halo. The black, hand-carved frame, designed by Wiley, combines traditional imagery of the Hands of Kohen (symbolizing a blessing from a descendant of Aaron, the Old Testament high priest), the Lion of Judah (representing power and majesty in symmetrical, confronting pairs), and the tablets of The Ten Commandments.”

“The MFA is thrilled to welcome this extraordinary work of art from such a visionary artist into our collection,” said MFA Executive Director Kristen A. Shepherd. “Kehinde Wiley’s work has not only elevated contemporary portraiture, but succeeds in telling stories and sharing experiences that have not been seen in such a bold, daring way before.”

Artist Wiley, who was born in Los Angeles, is based in New York and Beijing. He earned his MFA from Yale University in 2001, and has had solo exhibitions at major institutions across the United States. In 2015 he was honored with the U.S. Department of State’s Medal of Arts; received the W.E.B. Du Bois medal from Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research in 2018; and was a 2019 honoree of the Gordon Parks Foundation Award.

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