Pittsburgh museum puts gruesome Italian painting in modern context | Visual Art | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh museum puts gruesome Italian painting in modern context

click to enlarge Artemisia Gentileschi's "Judith Slaying Holofernes” - PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE FRICK PITTSBURGH
Photo: Courtesy of The Frick Pittsburgh
Artemisia Gentileschi's "Judith Slaying Holofernes”
Besides being one of the few women to secure her place in the historic art world, Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi endures as the visionary behind “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” one of the most gruesomely striking paintings ever displayed. Produced in the early 1600s, the Old Testament story depicts the beheading of an Assyrian general, in all its gory detail, by a Jewish widow, an act that would help save her fellow Israelites. The work is now regarded by many experts as a touchstone of feminist art.

The Frick Pittsburgh will bring the painting into the modern age by aligning it with a similarly titled work by a celebrated Black American contemporary artist.

SLAY: Artemisia Gentileschi & Kehinde Wiley will pair “Judith Slaying Holofernes” with a work by Wiley, a painter best known for his hyper-realistic portraits of Black men and women, including his 2018 portrait of former President Barack Obama. A  press release describes the show — on view in The Frick Art Museum from Sat., April 16 through July 10 — as raising “critical questions of identity, power, inequality, oppression, and what constitutes self-defense in an unjust war.”


Unlike Gentileschi’s painting, Wiley’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” which was painted in 2012, shows a Black woman in a flowing gown grasping the severed head of Holofernes, all of which is set against one of the painter's signature floral backgrounds.

“These two artists, their journeys, and their stories are vastly different. And yet there is so much in common in their experiences,” says Pittsburgh-based art historian Kilolo Luckett, who coordinated the show with the Frick’s chief curator Dawn R. Brean. “We are programmed to look at differences in an unhealthy way; the exhibition is an opportunity to think differently — and to heal and grow together.”

click to enlarge Kehinde Wiley's "Judith Slaying Holofernes” - PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE FRICK PITTSBURGH
Photo: Courtesy of The Frick Pittsburgh
Kehinde Wiley's "Judith Slaying Holofernes”
The show was co-organized by the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and The Museum Box. Gentileschi’s painting was borrowed from Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, while Wiley’s work was borrowed from the North Carolina Museum of Art.

“We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to showcase these two extraordinarily powerful masterworks in a never-before-seen pairing,” says Dr. Elizabeth E. Barker, executive director of The Frick Pittsburgh. “Great works of art, like these two paintings, take us outside of ourselves and have the power to change the way we see the world.”


In addition to being on display, the museum will also host a number of events designed to put the paintings and their artists in a historical and social context. These include a discussion led by Hebrew Bible scholar Caryn Tambler-Rosenau, a screening of the 2014 film, Kehinde Wiley: An Economy of Grace, and a talk with Gina Siciliano, author of the graphic novel I Know What I Am: The Life of Artemisia Gentileschi.

“When we discuss a work of art with others, the experience can be even richer and more meaningful,” says Barker. “This is one reason why museums are playing an increasingly essential role in fostering discourse and can even serve as agents of social change.”

SLAY: Artemisia Gentileschi & Kehinde Wiley. Sat., April 16-July 10. The Frick Art Museum. 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze. Free. Timed tickets required. thefrickpittsburgh.org/exhibitions

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