Washington, DC

William T. Wiley

Smithsonian American Art Museum

If American culture had to be grouped into two camps, what neater divide could there be than between idealists and pragmatists? The Pilgrim fathers, Emersons, and Clyfford Stills of this world would then square off against the Ben Franklins, Hemingways, and Rauschenbergs. Of course, reality can’t be pigeonholed so easily. Indeed, the going gets tough, and most interesting, when such opposites interact. Mergers of this kind are evident throughout William T. Wiley’s art, and their aesthetic consequences may help explain his relative neglect since the 1980s. The current retrospective recuperates Wiley, revealing a visionary, albeit often wayward, figure. Like many visionaries, he has been both ahead of his time and at odds with it.

Wiley may pose difficulties for some critics because unlike most “ideas” artists—from Duchamp to Damien Hirst—he is an obsessively skillful draftsman and painter.

Sign-in to keep reading

Artforum print subscribers have full access to this article. If you are a subscriber, sign in below.

Not registered for artforum.com? Register here.

SUBSCRIBE NOW for only $50 a year—65% off the newsstand price—and get the print magazine plus full online access to this issue and our archive.*

Order the ONLINE EDITION for $5.99.

* This rate applies to U.S. domestic subscriptions.