Kehinde Wiley (An LA Story) + Common Sense’s New Diversity Ratings


Kehinde Wiley’s and Amy Sherald’s Obama portraits (on view now at LACMA) feel fresh and culturally relevant at a time when most painting and media sorely under represents people of color. Kehinde Wiley’s story is a reminder of how keenly representation matters in the life of a child. He grew up here in Southern California and visited the Huntington as a child. The museum commissioned a new painting from Wiley, which is also on view this winter.

When he was a young boy growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Kehinde Wiley was enrolled in art classes at The Huntington. It was at the museum that he first encountered the monumental portraits of British aristocracy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now, a renowned portraitist who splits his time between New York and West Africa, Wiley is having a particular LA moment.

Two of his key paintings will hang at two separate LA institutions this fall, in what turns out to be a lucky coincidence for Angelenos. The most well known is a portrait of President Barack Obama on view at LACMA until January 2, 2022, alongside Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama, part of a traveling show from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. No doubt, most Angelenos will find a way to swing by and see these luminous portraits, which are on a five city tour. The Obama Portraits Tour is on view through January 2, 2022.

And this winter is the perfect time for a visit to The Huntington to see Wiley’s large-scale “Portrait of a Young Gentleman”, which was commissioned by the museum on the 100th anniversary of its purchase of their most popular painting: Thomas Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy.”

The Wiley commission is a very cool thing in itself – a meaningful way to draw a line between a young Black boy studying art on the museum grounds to the emergence of that boy as a world-class artist. As someone who believes deeply in the inspirational power of art, and as someone who dragged my children to countless museums, this story touches me deeply.

Want to know more? You can read more about the artist and this commission in the LA Times.

Kehinde Wiley, A Portrait of a Young Gentleman, 2021. Oil on linen, canvas: 70 1/2 × 49 1/8 in. (179.1 × 124.8 cm.), frame: 87 × 64 × 5 1/4 in. (221 × 162.6 × 13.3 cm.). © Kehinde Wiley. Collection of The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, and commissioned through Roberts Projects, Los Angeles

New research from Common Sense underlines the importance of children seeing themselves reflected in the art and media and culture to which they are exposed. Common Sense’s research shows that kids learn and understand race and ethnicity differently when representation moves away from stereotypes towards more realistic representation. And importantly, parents want this for their kids because they believe that media is a valuable tool to help kids understand race and ethnicity. You can read more in the full report here.

Installation view in the Thornton Portrait Gallery at The Huntington. Left to right: Joshua Reynolds, Diana (Sackville), Viscountess Crosbie, 1777; Kehinde Wiley, A Portrait of a Young Gentleman, 2021; Thomas Gainsborough, Elizabeth (Jenks) Beaufoy, later Elizabeth Pycroft, ca. 1780. Photo: Joshua White. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

In an important upgrade of their ratings, Common Sense is now looking at diversity and representation as one of their key metrics. This has taken over a year to implement, and the nonprofit has gone through a thorough research process in order to inform the criteria for a new rubric for looking at diversity, and appropriate language to talk about representation. Here is what you will now see when you check the rating for a film or TV show.

New Ratings module from Common Sense

Whomever took Kehinde to the Huntington did us all a favor. I urge you to travel to the Huntington to see this wonderful commission. And, when you are at LACMA visiting “The Obama Portraits Tour” be sure to drop in on the accompanying exhibition “Black American Portraits,” an homage to an important exhibition from the museum’s past timed to augment the Wiley and Sherald masterworks. The exhibit contains other portraits by Sherald and Wiley.

Remembering Two Centuries of Black American Art, guest curated by David Driskell at LACMA 45 years ago, this exhibition reframes portraiture to center Black American subjects, sitters, and spaces. Spanning over two centuries from c. 1800 to the present day, this selection of approximately 150 works draws primarily from LACMA’s permanent collection and highlights emancipation and early studio photography, scenes from the Harlem Renaissance, portraits from the Civil Rights and Black Power eras, and multiculturalism of the 1990s. Black American Portraits chronicles the ways in which Black Americans have used portraiture to envision themselves in their own eyes. Countering a visual culture that often demonizes Blackness and fetishizes the spectacle of Black pain, these images center love, abundance, family, community, and exuberance.