Image: Kehinde Wiley (American, born 1977), Portrait of Simon George II, 2007. Oil on canvas, 62 1/2 x 51 in. Crocker Art Museum purchase with contributions from Denise and Donald Timmons; the Marcy and Mort Friedman Acquisition Fund for Contemporary Art; Marcy Friedman; Emily Leff and James Davis III; the Becky B. Krisik Fund; Linda M. Lawrence; Nancy Lawrence and Gordon Klein; Glenn Sorensen, Jr.; David Gibson and William Ishmael; and others, 2017.130. Courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California

Sacramento, CA – February 16, 2018 - The Crocker Art Museum is pleased to announce it has acquired Kehinde Wiley's painting Portrait of Simon George II for its permanent collection. The painting, which has just been installed on the Museum's third floor, is currently on view as part of the Crocker's exhibition Hopes Springing High: Gifts of Art by African American Artists, which officially opens to the public on Sunday, February 18, 2018.

Wiley, who made news headlines this week for his painted portrait of former President Barack Obama, grew up in South-Central Los Angeles. His mother enrolled him in weekend art classes at a local state college when he was 11 years old, hoping to keep him away from the danger and violence of the streets. When Wiley was 12, he briefly attended an art program in Russia, along with his twin brother, who was also artistically inclined. Wiley recalls visiting museums throughout his childhood, including the Huntington Art Gallery, where he admired the collection of 18th- and 19th-century British portraiture. The Old Master representations of aristocratic power remained with him, and he would later reference them in his own work, adorning his paintings with ornate gold frames and featuring people of color in contemporary clothing.

The figure depicted in Portrait of Simon George II, for instance, wears a Los Angeles Dodgers jacket over a Denver Nuggets jersey bearing the number 15 — the jersey formerly worn by two-time Olympic gold-medal winner and 10-time NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony. Like the artist, Anthony was a rising star at the time this painting was created, and the appropriation of his jersey seems to foretell Anthony’s later reappearance in Wiley’s 2014 Modern Kings of Culture series.

Many of Wiley’s earliest works were self-portraits, and he maintains, “So much of what I do now is a type of self-portraiture.” Here, the front of the jacket and jersey are partially obscured, but when combined with the “LA” lettering on the figure’s left sleeve, they loosely form the word "Nigeria," adding a layer of personal significance to the painting, in possible reference to Wiley’s father, Isaiah D. Obot. Obot met Wiley's mother, Texan Freddie Mae Wiley at the University of California, Los Angeles, where both were students. Wiley did not know his father during his childhood, as Obot returned to Nigeria before Wiley was born in 1977. He met him for the first time at age 20.

Unlike his twin brother, who lost interest in pursuing an artistic career, Wiley continued his education in the arts. After graduating from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, he earned his BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1999, and his MFA from Yale University’s School of Art in New Haven, Connecticut, in 2001. Wiley then worked as an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, where he began “street casting,” or asking the people he encountered to pose for his portraits. He would show potential subjects — specifically young African American men — images of Old Master works and ask them to select a pose from one of the compositions. Wiley’s international rise to fame came with The World Stage series, that began in 2006 as he traveled around the world, "street casting" individuals from Brazil, Senegal, Nigeria, India, Israel, and China.

At first, the title of Portrait of Simon George II suggests a connection to the work of 16th-century German artist Has Holbein the Younger, whose own Portrait of Simon George of Cornwall (circa 1535–1540) has served as inspiration for other Wiley paintings. The pose, however, matches that of the sitter in Rembrandt van Rijn’s 17th-century Woman with a Pink in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Portrait of Simon George II, Wiley has exchanged the woman in Rembrandt’s portrait for a man. Known for subverting traditional representations of masculinity and male beauty, Wiley subjects compound the tension between "masculine" and "feminine" elements. Swirling, linear motifs contrast with the strength of the male figure wearing a do-rag and contemporary urban attire. Wiley also exchanges the pink carnation in Rembrandt’s portrait, a symbol of love and marriage, for a tulip, a symbol of luxury and wealth, referencing Dutch “tulipomania” and the likely/possible connection to the Dutch artist Rembrandt’s work.

Wiley, who is currently based in New York, continues to enjoy international recognition and immense success. In 2014, just 10 years after his first solo museum exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, he returned for his mid-career retrospective, Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic. The Brooklyn Museum was the first of seven museums to host this show, which included 60 paintings and sculptures. In 2015, Wiley was one of seven artists to receive the U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts from Secretary of State John Kerry for “substantive commitment to the U.S. State Department’s cultural diplomacy outreach through the visual arts.”

The Crocker Art Museum is delighted to welcome Portrait of Simon George II into its permanent collection, where it will be offered for public view and enjoyed by visitors for generations to come.

A high resolution images of this artwork may be made available to press/media upon request. Please email for more information.

Karen Christian
Media Relations Associate, Crocker Art Museum
(916) 808-1867


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Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums for characteristics of excellence, the Crocker Art Museum features the world’s foremost display of California art and is renowned for its holdings of European master drawings and international ceramics. The Crocker serves as the primary regional resource for the study and appreciation of fine art and holds permanent collections of Californian, European, Asian, African, and Oceanic art, works on paper, ceramics, and photography. The Museum offers a diverse spectrum of exhibitions, events, and programs to augment its collections, including films, concerts, studio classes, lectures, children’s activities, and more. The Museum has also dedicated the historic building’s entire first floor as an education center, which includes four classrooms, space for student and community exhibitions, the Gerald Hansen Library, and Tot Land.

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