During a conversation between artists Julie Mehretu and Kehinde Wiley hosted by the Studio Museum in Harlem on Wednesday night, American Express announced that it had tapped the two artists to create designs for its U.S. Platinum Card. The designs by Mehretu and Wiley will be unveiled next month during Art Basel Miami Beach and will be available to American Express Platinum Card holders beginning in January.
The company also said that it would give $1 million to the Studio Museum to help the institution continue supporting artists of African descent throughout their careers. That gift is part of a larger initiative by the credit card company to allocate $1 billion to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities. American Express’s contribution is being given in the name of Kathryn and Kenneth Chenault, two longtime patrons of the Studio Museum. Kenneth was American Express’s CEO from 2001 to 2018.
“We are so thrilled and honored that American Express will support the Studio Museum so we can offer deeply meaningful experiences to audiences in Harlem and beyond,” Thelma Golden, the Studio Museum’s director and chief curator, said during the conversation. “Both of these artists are innovators. What’s important about these artists is the way in which they’ve opened new paths, new ways of thinking. Their art has changed the way we think about art, but it also changes the way we see the world.”
Mehretu is considered one of the most important artists working in abstraction today. Her deeply layered canvases reference architectural plans and public spaces, as well as today’s most pressing issues, from protests for racial justice to the ongoing global migrant crisis. She was the recently the subject of a major mid-career survey that showed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2019 and the Whitney Museum in New York in 2021. In 2004, with a group of fellow artists, she cofounded a residency program, Denniston Hill, in the Catskills.
Throughout his career, Wiley has created large-scale paintings and portraits that reimagine famous works from the Western art canon by replacing their central white figures with Black ones, who are often dressed in luxurious clothing amid colorful floral backdrops. He was the subject of a major traveling survey that opened at the Brooklyn Museum in 2015 before heading to six other institutions across the country. In 2017, Wiley was selected by President Barack Obama to paint his official portrait, which was unveiled in 2018 and is currently on a national tour. Next month, he will open an exhibition at the National Gallery in London. In 2019, Wiley established a residency program, Black Rock, in Senegal.
Both Mehretu and Wiley participated in the Studio Museum’s famed artist-in-residence program, in 2000–01 and 2001–02, respectively. Each year, the Studio Museum hosts three artists for the 11-month program, which includes studio space and culminates in an annual exhibition of their work. Over 150 artists have participated since its launch in the early 1970s. Other alumni include some of the most closely watched artists working today, including Kerry James Marshall, David Hammons, Simone Leigh, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and Lauren Halsey.
“What the Studio Museum did, and what we’re trying to do at Denniston Hill,” Mehretu said during the conversation, “is create places where new futures are formed. They became important because they don’t exist—they haven’t existed in the past. The Studio Museum created a platform for us to have a very different platform and provide a different future.”