Smile, 2001 Video, 1 hour 30 minutes, looped Courtesy of Roberts & Tilton, Culver City, CA, and Kehinde Wiley
For this video artwork by Kehinde Wiley, seventeen young men were asked to smile unceasingly in front of a camera for one hour. Found on the streets of New York by the artist, they were subjected to a surprisingly difficult performance of endurance, emotion, and strain. Obligated to appear happy—at any cost—they stoically submit to this discomfort and humiliation, face after interchangeable face. When each man in the four video channels can no longer bear his grin, he is replaced by yet another of seventeen faces.
Los Angeles native and New York-based visual artist Kehinde Wiley has firmly situated himself within art history s portrait painting tradition. As a contemporary descendant in a long line of portraitists, including Reynolds, Gainsborough, Titian, Ingres, and others, Wiley engages the signs and visual rhetoric of the heroic, powerful, majestic, and sublime in his representation of urban, black, and brown men found throughout the world.