Four hundred years, the Atlantic Ocean, and eons of art history separate the two artists featured in “SLAY: Artemisia Gentileschi & Kehinde Wiley,” which opened last month at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Wort. (It runs through October 9,) Yet Gentileschi (the high priestess of the Italian Baroque) and Wiley (arguably the most thrilling portraitist of our day, painter of the official portrait of President Obama) share an apocryphal subject in this show as they recast a Biblical narrative from the Old Testament: the saga of Judith and Holofernes.
As relayed in the Book of Judith, a Jewish widow and her maidservant saved the Jewish town of Bethulia from attack by the Assyrian army led by its general, Holofernes. The pair visited the Assyrian camp to seemingly offer aid against the Israelites, only to slay the unsuspecting general with his own sword, cutting off Holofernes’ head as he slept.
Gentileschi survived rape by a painter who collaborated with her father, artist Orazio Gentileschi. The sensational trial that followed resulted in a conviction for the perpetrator, while the violent rape and her inquisition as accuser colored the entirety of the younger Gentileschi’s career, as seen in her Judith and Holofernes, circa 1612 to 1617, where she presents Judith — a self-portrait of the artist — in the violent act of beheading Holofernes, assisted by her maid. It speaks of feminist revenge.
Kehinde Wiley’s equally gripping version of Judith and Holofernes confronts the viewer first by sheer physical size, measuring more than 10 by 8 feet of contemporary Rococo splendor. Its dynamic female protagonist was famously cast from a real person: stay-at-home mom Triesha Lowe, whom the artist met at Fulton Mall in downtown Brooklyn, then dressed in a Givenchy gown designed by the house’s then creative director Riccardo Tisci. Here, she wields the severed head of a woman — a retelling of the biblical tale in modern terms freighted with meaning.
Visit kimbellart.org for more on “SLAY: Artemisia Gentileschi & Kehinde Wiley,” in Fort Worth through October 9.
Meanwhile, at the Nasher Sculpture Center…
Lynda Benglis, one of the trailblazing sculptors of the second half of the 20th century, gets a fresh look in a solo show this summer at the Nasher Sculpture Center. Rather than surveying the artist’s full 50-year career, Nasher curator Dr. Leigh Arnold zeroes in on three bodies of work created during the past decade, beginning with an epic bronze fountain that rises more than 25 feet into the air, installed in the Nasher’s expansive sculpture garden.
In contrast to this monumental ode to liquidity, inside the Nasher are Benglis’ intimate wall works formed from handmade colored paper constructed over chicken wire, adorned with cast sparkles. These works of crumpled paper possess an Asian sensibility, demanding close introspection. A final highlight is a series of aggressive bronzes — enlarged castings based on the artist’s smaller-scale ceramic sculptures. These human-sized sculptures swirl with menacing torque, suggesting writhing serpents or storm-tossed ocean waves. In total, this focus examination of 11 works expands the viewers’ understanding of Benglis.
Arnold says, “Our show celebrates the artist’s boundless curiosity and lifelong commitment to redefining our understanding of art.”
Visit NasherSculptureCenter.org for more info.