To create the works in his Down series, Kehinde Wiley borrowed poses from some of the most dramatic European paintings and sculptures of reclining or fallen figures. These titanic portraits, some as large as a billboard, complicate the notion of vulnerability and passivity often associated with recumbent figures. For Femme piquée par un serpent (2008) Wiley looks to Auguste Clésinger’s 1847 suggestive sculpture of a woman writhing in pain from a snake bite and replaces it with a young black man in casual clothing. Key changes in the pose and depiction of the figure in Wiley’s work—the figure is now male and clothed; the wrist, originally encircled by the poisonous snake, now lays easily over the platform; and the gaze is facing forward, staring directly at the viewer with coolly parted lips—imbue the figure with an agency combined with eroticism not evidenced in the source.

Posted by Adrianne Koteen

“Au musée d’Orsay, à Paris, « Olympia » (1863) d’Edouard Manet et « Femme piquée par un serpent » (1847) d’Auguste Clesinger : deux oeuvres qui suscitèrent la polémique parce qu’elles représentaient des courtisanes.” (