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Royal Museum Greenwich acquires work of Kehinde Wiley

PICTURED: Kehinde Wiley's “Ship of Fools” (2017) (Photo credit Stephen Friedman Gallery, London)

ROYAL MUSEUMS Greenwich (RMG) with the help of Art Fund has announced a new major acquisition by American artist Kehinde Wiley.

The acquisition, Ship of Fools (2017), unveiled on Thursday (Apr 26) at the Queen’s House in Greenwich, is the first work by Kehinde Wiley to enter a public collection in the United Kingdom.

Kehinde Wiley is known for his majestic large scale portraits featuring subjects of African descent and inspired by the works of old master paintings. His works explore themes of race, identity and power that challenge the absence of people of colour from traditional art histories.

A popular figure in the contemporary art world, Wiley’s works have been acquired by many major American institutions, with his name most recently associated with the creation of the official portrait of former US President, Barack Obama. His appearance in 2018’s TIME Magazine ‘100 most influential people’ list further secures his place as one of the most significant American artists working today.

Painted for inclusion in Wiley’s recent exhibition, In Search of the Miraculous, at the Stephen Friedman Gallery in London, 'Ship of Fools' was completed in 2017 as part of a new body of work by the artist.

The series saw Wiley move away from the portraiture he is best known for and instead reflect on the genre of marine painting between the 16th and 19th centuries that traditionally served to champion voyage, conquest and colonial maritime power.

Stephen Deuchar, Director, Art Fund, said: “Art Fund is proud to be helping Royal Museums Greenwich acquire Kehinde Wiley’s Ship of Fools. To place this powerful painting confronting contemporary issues of migration and cultural identity in the midst of the historic collection and setting of the Queen’s House is a bold and energising step.

"It is the very first work to be acquired for a UK collection by this important, internationally acclaimed artist, and may now be seen and enjoyed by visitors from across the country.”

Kehinde Wiley, has previously said of the painting: “(Ship of Fools) is a response to the history of Maritime painting, and in a very strong way is about trying to come to terms with the project I have had over the past ten to twelve years, which is to delve into the history of painting: Gainsborough, Turner, Bosch, to delve into those people whose shoulders I try to stand on to justifiably create a space for myself.”

Karon Hepburn, Director, Stephen Friedman Gallery, commented: “We are so thrilled that Kehinde Wiley’s majestic painting Ship of Fools ’has been acquired by Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) - it is the first painting acquisition by a European institution by this acclaimed artist. In Ship of Fools, Wiley combines his own unique painterly language with the allegorical potential of maritime painting to create a powerful commentary on contemporary society.

"This is the perfect placement for the work, and makes clear the RMG’s ongoing and prescient commitment to showcase ground-breaking contemporary art, that reflects and spotlights new discourse around their important historical collection. We are sure the painting will be enjoyed by local South Londoners and international visitors to RMG for years to come.”

Christine Riding, Head of Art and Curator of the Queen’s House, said: “I am a great admirer of Kehinde Wiley's work and I am thrilled that the Museum has acquired this powerful, complex and thought-provoking painting.

'Ship of Fools' deftly reworks and updates Bosch's famous allegory to highlight major challenges and injustices today. I feel certain that it will resonate with many people, whatever their age, heritage and background. We hope that this acquisition may be the start of an ongoing relationship between Kehinde Wiley and Royal Museums Greenwich.”

Ship of Fools can be seen on display in the King’s Presence Chamber of the Queen’s House in Greenwich from 1pm on Thursday 26 April 2018.

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