Wednesday, November 1, 2017 || By Michael Romain || OPINION || @maywoodnews
“Easter Realness #2” by Kehinde Wiley, who was recently selected to paint Barack Obama’s Smithsonian portrait, hangs inside of the Oak Park Public Library. | Courtesy Oak Park Public Library
A government’s purchase of artwork doesn’t necessarily have to be an exercise in extravagance and waste. Consider the Oak Park Public Library’s 2004 purchase of a painting called “Easter Realness #2,” by the then-relatively unknown African American artist Kehinde Wiley for $16,000, according to a recent Wednesday Journal article.
That sounds like a lot and it is, but the library apparently went about the purchase the right way. Library officials convened a committee “formed to select new works from both local artists as well as others” and to “acquire art that is challenging, intriguing and enduring,” according to the Journal.
In 2003, when Oak Park’s new main library opened, the community held a gala and sold bricks to raise money for an art fund. There was serious energy, organization, planning and deliberation around gathering works of art that would reflect the community’s identity, collective vision and broader sense of purpose.
In January 2017, the Journal reports, Wiley’s “Easter Realness #2” was appraised at $125,000 — a 681 percent return on investment. And last month, Wiley was selected by former president Barack Obama to paint the first black president’s portrait for the Smithsonian National Portrait gallery.
Kehinde Wiley, left, and former president Barack Obama, who recently selected Wiley to paint his Smithsonian portrait. | Wikipedia
Now, Maywood is not Oak Park, but that doesn’t mean that Maywood can’t take the same aggressive, focused, communal, serious and deliberate approach to valuing artwork. Art changes communities and (although this should not be the central focus) it can also be a good investment.
That said, Maywood isn’t a stranger to purchasing artwork, particularly commissioned public pieces. There’s the bust of Joe Freelon, the first African American mayor of Maywood, on display in the entrance of Village Hall at 40 Madison St. There are the Geraldine McCullough, Richard Hunt and Preston Jackson sculptures that dot the landscape around the library, police station and Fred Hampton pool.
There are likely more. One wonders whether the village has inventoried this work and, perhaps, had it appraised. One hopes that the community can rally around art in a more sustained and deliberate way. One can only imagine the possible rewards. VFP
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