Visual Art

This Obama "Portrait" is One Reason to See Kirk Ke Wang's Solo Show at Galleri Urbane

We don't see too many artists from China in Dallas, but Galleri Urbane likes to gather from underutilized sources. Currently, they're showing an exhibition by Florida-from-China artist Kirk Ke Wang, who turns wall-sized canvases into politically supercharged paintings. He does it through lovely subversion, shape-shifting the images from representational symbolism to pixelated shadow.

See Also: There's a Gallery in a Couple's House in the Cedars with Paintings You Should Probably See.

His solo exhibition at Urbane's Dallas location (there's one in Marfa too) is, in fact, titled "Shadows." Here you'll see Wang allude to the real-life characters of his youth, visions from return trips to China, and on the experience of being something other than black or white in America.

One spectacular piece in the show, "Black and White Colors" (2012), marks and modernizes that particular experience. It's a portrait of sorts, of President Obama. The middle of three vertically imposing panels expresses his facial features in colorful round pixelly circles, losing the potential for instant recognition; but all is not lost, since those trademark Obama ears bring the parts into whole. The outer panel presents a black man on a lighter background, while the opposite side presents him as light-skinned with a dark background. Since Wang modernizes the topic, it reflects not only his experience of belonging somewhere outside the simplified dichotomy of black-and-white, but also references Obama's mixed heritage and the evolving racial composition of America itself.

With "Chained Bird" (2012), Wang regards both classical tradition and innovation in tribute to his compatriot Ai Wei Wei, the artist and social activist who has been openly critical of the Chinese government. Other paintings combine Wang's virtuosity with his interest in toys and the dark results of a high-powered nation's aversion to democracy: slave wages, prostitution, and gender inequality in its darkest manifestations.

It isn't easy art, but if you're as lucky as I was, you will have a young art scholar named Natalie guiding you through the work. I normally prefer to be left alone when I'm looking at art, hoping for uninterrupted intimacy (ideally) between myself and the work. But talking to someone about the paintings, as you're looking at them, can be blissful when that person is not only informed and passionate, but also open and interested in what you're seeing, too. This is a great gallery.

"Shadows: Solo Exhibit, featuring Kirk Ke Wang" runs through March 30th at Galleri Urbane Marfa + Dallas (don't be afraid, this is just the official gallery name applied to both locations).

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Betsy Lewis
Contact: Betsy Lewis