Lesson of the Day: ‘Kehinde Wiley’s Times Square Monument: That’s No Robert E. Lee’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Kehinde Wiley’s Times Square Monument: That’s No Robert E. Lee’

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Featured Article: “Kehinde Wiley’s Times Square Monument: That’s No Robert E. Lee

Even before you start reading, look at the image above and the others found in the article. What do you feel as you look at the statue? What do you think the sculpture might represent or symbolize? What could its title, “Rumor of War,” mean? Why do you think that?

Next, consider some of the decisions the artist made: the figure’s facial expression, his clothing, the fact that he is on horseback, the size of the sculpture along with the base it sits on, its title and the typeface chosen for its engraving, the colors, materials used and anything else you notice.

Now consider the sculpture’s placement in Times Square in New York City. Why do you think it’s there? Would you like to see it in person? Why or why not?

Finally, read the headline of the featured article. Do you recognize the name Robert E. Lee? What might the headline writer be suggesting by saying the work is “not Robert E. Lee”? What about the choice of “monument” over “statue” or “sculpture”? What clues does this headline give you about how the article’s writer feels about the work?

Do you recognize the name Kehinde Wiley? If so, what do you know about him and his work?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. What will be the statue’s permanent location? What are three reasons this is significant? You might consider the state, the city and the placement in that city in your answer.

2. The article’s writer says the rider reflects an effort to reclaim history. What details support this idea?

3. Where was Mr. Wiley when he came up with the idea for the sculpture? When did this occur? What was he looking at, in particular, at the time? How did he feel? What did it make him want to do?

4. What events that occurred about a year later made him even more committed to creating the sculpture? Why?

5. The article states:

The oppression of African-Americans is still pervasive in our society,” said Alex Nyerges, the director of the Virginia museum. “But if anyone is going to take on the mantle of trying to change the conversation and make things better for the present and the future, I can think of no better place to start.

To what degree, if at all, do you think it’s possible for a work of art to accomplish something like changing a conversation in the larger culture or the world at large? Explain.

You have read that Mr. Wiley is also a painter, perhaps best known for his portrait of former President Barack Obama, which hangs in the National Gallery. Take a look at the painting. What does the painting seem to say about Mr. Obama?

Read this excerpt from “Obama Portrait Artists Merged the Everyday and the Extraordinary,” an article published around the time of the painting’s unveiling:

Part of what Mr. Obama saw in Mr. Wiley’s work, the former president said, was the capacity to elevate ordinary people to the level of royalty, those “so often out of sight and out of mind.”

“Kehinde lifted them up and gave them a platform and said they belong at the center of American life,” Mr. Obama said. “That was something that moved me deeply, that’s part of what I believe politics should be about — not simply celebrating the high and the mighty and expecting that the country unfolds from the top down but rather that it comes from the bottom up.”

What, if anything, that Mr. Obama said about the portrait applies to the sculpture “Rumor of War.” Do you see any common themes in the former president’s portrait and in “Rumor of War”? How does each of the works present a narrative, and what do these narratives seem to be telling the viewer?