Over a period of fifty years, William T. Wiley has distinguished himself by creating an extensive body of work that challenges the precepts of mainstream art. Making art that is at once witty and serious, topical and discursive, Wiley’s practices range from traditional drawing, watercolor, acrylic painting, sculpture, printmaking and film, to performance, constructions of assorted materials, and more recently, printed pins and tapestries. Wiley enjoyed great success early in his career with international exhibitions and a worldwide audience in the 1960s and early 1970s. Yet as “minimal” and “cool” prevailed on the East Coast, he was often referred to as a California “funk” regionalist. What’s It All Mean: William T. Wiley in retrospect includes essays by Joann Moser, John Yau, and John G. Hanhardt that place the artist’s works within a biographical context, assess Wiley’s distinctive use of language, and reflect on Wiley’s films of the 1970s.
“So we’ll see what happens when it gets dark,” William T. Wiley said after introductory remarks at the McEvoy Auditorium the other night to inaugurate the 2009 Clarice Smith Distinguished Lectures in American Art at the museum, and the lights were dimmed.
While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech was a pivotal moment in U.S. history, there’s more to his life and legacy than that single story. Smithsonian educators share approaches to expand classroom lessons and student understanding of this great civil rights leader.
Enter the world of artist William T. Wiley, who has created a distinctive body of work during a 50-year career that addresses critical issues of our time. Art, politics, war, global warming, foolishness, ambition, hypocrisy, and irony are summoned by Wiley’s fertile imagination and recorded in the personal vocabulary of symbols, puns and images that fill his objects. His wit and sense of the absurd make his art accessible to all with multiple layers of meaning revealed through careful examination.