Vandalism Fears, Racist Cats: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts releases comments on Kehinde Wiley acquisition

Vandalism Fears, Racist Cats: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts releases comments on Kehinde Wiley acquisition

Everyone’s a critic, sure, but we weren’t prepared for a racist critique co-signed by two cats.

Written by
Edited by Beryl Lipton

Everyone’s a critic. But nothing prepared us for the racist art critique co-signed by two Virginia cats.

In June, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announced its acquisition of “Rumors of War,” a sculpture by world-renowned artist Kehinde Wiley created in response to Richmond’s Monument Avenue. The stretch of tony Richmond real estate started to take shape in the 1890s when Lost Cause backers began erecting equestrian statues of Confederate generals, just as the city’s ascendant Black middle class came under attack from Jim Crow laws. Wiley became inspired by Monument Avenue’s J.E.B. Stuart statue, which he saw while in town for the opening of his 2016 VMFA exhibition, and “Rumors of War” bears a resemblance to the figure—with Stuart replaced.

Wiley unveiled the statue in Times Square in September. It will take its place in front of the VMFA in December. Being a government agency, the comments received by VMFA at the front desk or by email belong to us. Ahead of the December installation, we thought we’d see what people have to say so far.

The bulk of the 29 comments received and provided to us under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act came in just after the announcement, with some trickling in following the unveiling.

Eighteen registered some form of enthusiasm—whether that meant congratulating VMFA Director Alex Nyerges or worrying Virginians would attempt to vandalize it.

One person called to ask whether Virginians deserved to keep it:


The 11 comments received in opposition?

One criticizes Wiley for not representing a historical figure such as slave rebellion organizer Gabriel Prosser rather than “a current hip hop, urban youth in contemporary attire astride a war horse.” The remaining offer racist tropes and umbrage. This includes one from Handsome and Maude, described as “two purr+fect sweet cats,” that claims the Los Angeles-born Wiley “needs to be sent back to Nigeria!”


Here is the full log:

Image by Brecht Bug licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0