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Last week, Kehinde Wiley unveiled his third and final installment for the “Modern-Day Kings of Culture” series featuring New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. Inspired by 18th- and 19th-century French portraiture, the artist collaborated with Grey Goose vodka to select cultural and thought leaders in sports, film (Spike Lee), and music (Swiss Beatz).
The setting was a reception and intimate dinner at the Sunset Tower Hotel in Los Angeles as a prelude to the ESPY Awards. Grey Goose launched its new vodka, Le Melon The Fruit of Kings, extracted from the coveted Cavaillon melon grown in Provence, France. Legend has it that kings would trade gold to have exclusive rights to this succulent fruit. Paul Cézanne illustrated the Cavaillon melon in an early, and at the time quite radical, still-life painting. In 1864, Alexander Dumas donated all 194 of his published (and future) works to the town of Cavaillon in order to receive an annuity of 12 melons every summer until his death in 1870.
Maître de Chai François Thibault developed this new recipe along with specialty cocktails served throughout the evening; these included his signature Melong Mule (Cavaillon melon meets Moscow Mule) and Le Melon Score (Grey Goose Le Melon, Martini Bianco, fresh pineapple juice, club soda), dedicated to Anthony’s “extraordinary career on the court.”
Before dinner, Maximillian Chow, of Mr. Chow, moderated a conversation between Wiley and Anthony. Chow started off by asking Anthony, “Did you [ever] think you would be a muse for an artist?” and he replied, “Hell no!” The two-time Olympic Gold Medal winner and NBA player expressed how creativity helps him in sports to focus. That process, he said, “goes hand in hand” for him. Anthony likes to “dabble here and there . . . to see how tough it is to get into that creative mode in art.”
Wiley then told Chow that this entire process was surreal because he’s a huge fan of Anthony’s. The artist, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles and started attending art schools at age 11, doesn’t usually make commissions outside of the traditional art space. The idea of “Modern-Day Kings of Culture” plays with the notion of what a “contemporary king” is that he can truly relate to. “So much of my work is for people that don’t have voices,” said Wiley. The artist also passionately spoke to Whitewall earlier (over cocktails) about his new exhibition “The World Stage: Haiti“ opening on September 13 at Roberts & Tilton in Culver City, L.A.
In relating seemingly unconnected worlds, Chow pointed out that sport is a “metaphor for war” for civilized humanity. “This not only is a graceful art form,” he said, “but it’s something we can feel proud of as a society.”
In the sports press, there has been some poorly informed criticism towards Anthony, accusing him of commissioning the portrait for some narcissistic pleasure. In reality, the artwork will be auctioned off and the proceeds will go to a charity of his choice. “My importance for young kids is being a role model,” said Anthony. “Family is what keeps me grounded . . . my son is who keeps me motivated.”
Wiley also discussed the public side of being an artist. “The foundational aspects of my creative self is being able to make a statement that you know won’t satisfy everyone and then say ‘fuck it.’ You have the responsibility of saying something that you want to brace,” he said. “A radical sense of honesty is core.”
This was the third event over the past several weeks to premiere Wiley’s portraits. Guests that night included Randy Jackson, L.A. Clipper Matt Barnes and wife Gloria Govan, USMNT international soccer player Jermaine Jones, singer Kelly Rowland and husband Tim Witherspoon, and Tina Knowles (mother of Beyoncé and Solange).