Inspired by childhood visits to the Huntington Library outside of Los Angeles, where he grew up, Kehinde Wiley set out to address the conspicuous lack of black subjects in western European art. He began by painting portraits of young men models he hand-picked from the streets of Harlem placing them in the vernacular of artists such as Ingres and Titian. The poses were classical, the clothing, the model’s own. The result was an arresting alchemy of highbrow and hip-hop that put a brand new spin on a traditional form.
This film, which had its U.S. premiere at the SXSW Film Festival earlier this year, follows Wiley as he undertakes an exciting new project: a series of classical portraits of African-American women. As with his previous work, the models are street-cast in New York City and posed in the manner of society figures from the 18th or 19th centuries. Only this time, they are not wearing their own clothes. Instead, each woman is dressed in an original couture gown. To realize his vision, Wiley joined forces with Riccardo Tisci, creative director of Givenchy, in an utterly unique and extremely high-profile collaboration between art and haute couture.
Wiley specializes in combining beauty, chance, fantasy, and the real—a talent only partially represented in his gorgeous paintings. This film offers a unique perspective into the fullness of his process and the characters at play. In the end, An Economy of Grace offers up a tantalizing inside look at the intersection of art and fashion, both of museums and of the streets. The film is an intimate portrait of one of this generation’s most intriguing and accomplished visionaries, and an exploration of what beauty is in the 21st century.
USA 38 min.
Jessica Chermayeff, Jeff Dupre
Robert Hanna, William Pena