By Morgan Edwards
Artist Kehinde Wiley’s monumental statue “Rumors of War” was unveiled in Times Square on Friday to an estimated 350 attendees. The statue is Wiley’s response to the Confederate sculptures scattered throughout the South, especially in Richmond, Virginia.
“This is his first attempt at a monumental sculpture, and I’d have to say he pretty much hit it out of the park,” Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Director Alex Nyerges said.
The statue depicts a young African American man wearing street clothes atop a rearing horse. The body language of the subject is triumphant and confident. “Rumors of War” is closely modeled after the statue of Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart found in the center of Stuart Circle along Monument Avenue in Richmond.
According to Sean Kelly Gallery founder Sean Kelly, “Rumors of War” is 27 feet tall, and 1 foot taller than the statue of Stuart. The New York-based art gallery represents Wiley and other established artists. It co-sponsored the unveiling along with the VMFA and the Times Square Alliance.
Wiley has become known for paintings depicting African American men and women shown in classical poses. His paintings are inspired by masters from the Renaissance and Rococo eras of art but with a contemporary and political twist. In 2018 he unveiled the official portrait of President Barack Obama in the Smithsonian National Gallery, garnering worldwide attention.
Media and guests at the unveiling began gathering at 12:30 p.m. in one of the main medians of Times Square. The statue loomed large, draped in a silver cloth. People on their lunch break and other onlookers sat outside a fence surrounding the area, many stopping to ask what was going on.
A temporary security fence formed a roughly 500-square-foot border around the statue.
After comments from Nyerges, Kelly and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, Wiley stepped up to the podium to deliver a short but passionate explanation behind the process of creating “Rumors of War.”
“Let’s get this party started,” Wiley declared, and the cloth was pulled back revealing the statue to the audience.
The base of the statue was crafted from Wisconsin limestone in Wiley’s New York studio, Kelly said. The bronze used to build the statue was cast in Wiley’s Beijing studio and then shipped in three separate pieces to New York and reassembled.
Wiley came up with the idea to create the statue during the 2016 showing of a retrospective of his work at the VMFA. Nyerges said Wiley approached the museum about collaborating on the project.
“When they approached us the question was, ‘Would you be interested in working with us on a project like this,’ and of course the answer was an instant ‘yes,’” Nyerges said. “Then when Kehinde and Sean came back to us with some visuals and a conceptual of what it looked like, we were blown away.”
The statue has been under construction for almost three years. Kelly said he feels overjoyed to have Wiley’s newest work completed and released.
“The beginning of the journey is absolutely terrifying if you think about what you’re getting yourself into,” Kelly said. “Unveiling it today is like giving birth; it’s super exciting and amazing. There’s nothing but euphoria and joy at this point.”
Stoney addressed how “Rumors of War” will fit into the ongoing conversation about the monuments on Monument Avenue. Five other statues honoring Confederates, and one statue in tribute to tennis legend Arthur Ashe, are erected along a 1.5-mile stretch of the city street. In recent years there has been considerable debate about whether to remove the monuments. The mayor established a commission to study and make recommendations on the removal or relocation of the monuments. The panel’s final report called for removal of the Jefferson Davis statue, and the addition of context to the others.
“Our friends who worked on the Monument Avenue Commission stated that addition has to be part of the recipe for us balancing the scales in Richmond in terms of the monuments we currently have to the Lost Cause [the narrative that the Confederacy was justified in its rebellion, minimizing the role slavery played in causing the Civil War] and balancing that with heroes and sheroes from African American culture,” Stoney said.
The statue will be on temporary public display until Dec. 1 and then moved to its permanent home at the VMFA in Richmond. The public can see the statue unveiled for a second time Dec. 10 on the museum’s front lawn along Arthur Ashe Boulevard.
Wayback RVA — Old Pythian Hall and Mechanics Savings Bank
A Then & Now photo essay of Richmond places from around the area.
The Old Pythian Hall and Mechanics
Savings Bank, Mr. Jno. Mitchell Jr., Pres.
- Souvenir Views Negro Enterprises and Residences, Richmond, Va. D. A. Ferguson & Co. 1907.
- Richmond Planet masthead.
- Logo, Order of the Knights of Pythias.
- Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Richmond (1905) — Plate 3.
- [RTD] John Mitchell Jr. Richmond Times-Dispatch. Michael Paul Williams February 21, 1996.
- 311 North Fourth Street.
John Mitchell Jr. was aptly described as “a man who would walk into the jaws of death to serve his race.” Mitchell – newspaper editor, entrepreneur, city councilman and candidate for governor – was one of the most respected black leaders of his day. [RTD]
A fascinating individual. The Shockoe Examiner has an interesting post from 2012 about Mitchell’s grave in Evergreen Cemetery. Alas for the old bank building, it’s former location now rests under the Richmond Convention Center.
(Old Pythian Hall and Mechanics Savings Bank is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)
Must-See RVA! — John Marshall Courts Building
A look into the history of Richmond places that are still part of our landscape.
- 800 East Marshall Street
- Built, 1978
- Renovated, 1994
- Architects, C. F. Murphy & Associates; Helmut Jahn, project architect (1978). Hening-Vest-Covey (1994)
Straight out of Alphaville.
Designed by a nationally known Chicago-based architectural firm, the John Marshall Courts Building was intended to provide a neutral background to the John Marshall House. In this it succeeds. it is a slickly detailed glass box with rounded edges. The building is the best example of the “glass box” genre in Richmond.
C. F. Murphy & Associates are among the more skillful followers of Mies van der Rohe, who was the most influential architect of the 20th century. Their Richmond building has been controversial on both functional and aesthetic grounds. [ADR]
Designed to respect the Marshall House next door, the sleek, black glass box of the John Marshall Courts Building sets off the house, emphasizing its iconic, welcoming facade. This is perhaps its only success, because the court building has been plagued with criticism for its dysfunction. Recent alterations have attempted to correct traffic and security issues. (SAH Archipedia)
When your lead architect likes to wear capes as normal outerwear, and his detractors call him “Flash Gordon”, there’s a chance you might not get what you were expecting. Before you know it, you might be throwing around emotional terms like controversial and dysfunction and find yourself spending money to correct gaps in the original design.
After graduating from the Technische Hochschule in Munich in 1965, (Helmut) Jahn moved to Chicago to study at the Illinois Institute of Technology, a school long associated with the Modernist aesthetic of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and his followers. On the basis of this solid design background, Jahn was hired by Chicago architectural firm C.F. Murphy Associates to work on the Miesian design for McCormick Place in Chicago.
In the late 1970s and ’80s Jahn made his mark, designing extravagant buildings that combined historical and contextual references—the central tenets of postmodern architecture—with high-tech engineering solutions. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
Jahn certainly has his admirers and adherents. He has completed over 90 building projects during his long career and has been widely recognized for his efforts, earning a Ten Most Influential Living American Architects award from the American Institute of Architects in 1991.
However, in the early days, his critics considered him “that postmodern enfant terrible who rocketed to stardom on the supercharged fireworks of the State of Illinois Building in 1985.” (Architecture Week)
A 1986 Chicago Tribune article about his MetroWest design in Naperville, Illinois called him a “flamboyant postmodernist, who adorns himself in capes and Porches.” It went on to observe that the building produced nausea in a nearby office worker, and concluded with relief that “at least nobody has dubbed it the Starship Naperville.” [CHIT]
With context like that, perhaps it’s not surprising that issues were found with the courts building. Not everyone digs the glass box thing, that’s easy to grok, but the functional issues are something else. The building opened in 1978 and just four short years Robert Winthrop was calling it controversial, so whatever problems existed must have quickly found a voice.
The precise nature of the complaints is obscure, but the building does not appear to respect the available space. Together with the John Marshall House, the courts building complex consumes the entire block, yet there is a large, empty plaza along Ninth Street.
It certainly looks nice, but by 1994 the City would find itself coughing up $2 million dollars for a renovation to create additional office space and another courtroom. [RTD1] At such cost, there probably weren’t a lot of plaza enthusiasts still hanging around.
Adding to the sense of injury, the new courts building came at the price of the beautiful old John Marshall High School. It too sat quietly behind the John Marshall House at the corner of 9th and Marshall and was considered a state-of-the-art facility when it opened in 1909, with large classrooms, elevators, and science labs, as well as modern plumbing, heating, and ventilation. [RTD2]
Alas, this sacrificial lamb was razed, and the school had to scoot to a new location in North Side.
(John Marshall Courts Building is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)
- A shout-out to Ray Bonis & Harry Kollatz for their tips and input on the courts building!
- [ADR] Architecture in Downtown Richmond. Robert P. Winthrop. 1982.
- [CHIT] Chicago Tribune. Sunday, March 2, 1986.
- [RTD1] Richmond Times-Dispatch. December 8, 1994.
- [RTD2] Richmond Times-Dispatch. August 16, 1909.
Must-See RVA! is a regular series
appearing on rocket werks – check it out!
Wayback RVA — Dreyer’s Studio
A Then & Now photo essay of Richmond places from around the area.
611 E. Broad Street
June 2, 1923
Doug & Reg
Mom says we have to sit still to take the picture — I am sitting still stop poking me — I’m not touching you — Yes, you are, quit it! — Ow! — Mom, he started it!
- Rocket Werks RVA Postcards
- Advertisement from The Flat Hat, College of William & Mary — April 1, 1927 — William & Mary Digital Archive
- ProQuest® Sanborn Maps Geo Edition™
- 611 East Broad Street
(Dreyer’s Studio is part of the Atlas RVA! Project)