Rhett Gérard Poché

A blog devoted to the study of art, art history, and visual literacy.


Time for more “visual-aural literacy”…and I have a question for you:

What do Kehinde Wiley and Handsome Boy Modeling School have in common?—SAMPLING!

I’ll explain…Let’s start with a track from Handsome Boy Modeling School’s album, White People.  Listen to the following track.  What do you hear?  Listen very carefully.  Do you hear any samples?

Handsome Boy Modeling School—Rock & Roll (Could Never Hip Hop Like This) (from White People, 2004)

If you listened carefully, you likely heard the following:

Luigi Boccherini—String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5 (1775)

Antonio Vivaldi—Concerto No. 1 in E Major, Op. 8, RV 269, “La Primavera” (Spring) (1723)

Fatboy Slim—The Rockafeller Skank (1998)

What are the implications of mixing contemporary hip hop with eighteenth-century compositions by Boccherini, Vivaldi, AND a track by Norman Cook, a.k.a. Fatboy Slim?  Do these samples have racial implications within the context of hip hop?  Did you hear a commentary on world history, music history, race relations, and the notion of power?

Try this—play Rock & Roll (Could Never Hip Hop Like This) while viewing the following paintings:

Left: Jacques-Louis David. Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Grand-Saint-Bernard. oil on canvas. 1800-1. Chateau de Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison
Right: Kehinde Wiley. Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps. oil on canvas. 2005. Brooklyn Museum, Collection of Suzi and Andrew B. Cohen. © Kehinde Wiley, Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery, New York

Did you “hear” Kehinde Wiley’s Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps?

In essence, Wiley’s painting investigates contemporary race relations by appropriating/sampling Jacques-Louis David and eighteenth-century motifs of power, much like Handsome Boy Modeling School’s White People samples Boccherini, Vivaldi, Mozart, and Brahms.  Also, you may want to note that White People was released in 2004.  Wiley’s painting was completed in 2005.  Coincidence?

If you listened critically, you likely see exactly what the Brooklyn Museum says about Wiley’s painting:

Historically, the role of portraiture has been not only to create a likeness but also to communicate ideas about the subject’s status, wealth, and power. During the eighteenth century, for example, major patrons from the church and the aristocracy commissioned portraits in part to signify their importance in society. This portrait imitates the posture of the figure of Napoleon Bonaparte in Jacques-Louis David’s painting Bonaparte Crossing the Alps at Grand-Saint-Bernard. Wiley transforms the traditional equestrian portrait by substituting an anonymous young Black man dressed in contemporary clothing for the figure of Napoleon. The artist thereby confronts and critiques historical traditions  that do not acknowledge Black cultural experience. Wiley presents a new brand of portraiture that redefines and affirms Black identity and simultaneously questions of the history of Western painting.

Filed under: Visual Literacy

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