Monday, October 31, 2016

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL MASTRY at the Met: Review by Polly Guerin

Kerry James Marshall's "Untitled (Vignette) 2012 
The monumental scale and the black beauty of Kerry James Marshall's paintings often evoke familiar themes with black image sensitivity on subjects that often are a Requiem to the 60's a decade synonymous with the Civil Rights Movement.
     Then, too, in the large paintings, some 8 and l/2 x 10 feet, that Marshall has come to be known, art history is also suggestively part of the picture.
     For instance, based on Jean-Honore Fragonard's series on romance, "The Progress of Love," Marshall's "Untitled (Vignette) 2012, places black lovers--a rare subject in Western paintings---frolicking in a pink setting amid heart notes descending form a musical scale, flowers and chirping birds. Marshall gives new dignity to courtship and romance in paintings about Black lovers, that echo universal sentiments of endearment and commitment. Commenting recently Marshall said, "Images don't only express our desirers, but teach us about our desirers."
       KERRY JAMES MARSHALL: MASTRY is the largest museum retrospective to date of the work of Chicago based, American artist, Kerry James Marshall, which opened recently at the Met Breuer and is on view through January 29, 2017. 
      Marshall said, "To be part of the Met's magnificent history has always been my dream.  This is where I always wanted to end up, thankfully while I am still living."
     Encompassing nearly 80 works---including 72 paintings, that span the artist's 35-year career, the monographic exhibit is based on the central concern of redressing the absence of the black figure in the canon of Western art.
Kerry James Marshall's Garden Project series
Black skin is always dominant in Marshall's art---black as you have never seen before. Marshall uses three kinds of black---carbon black, mars black and ivory black and each is subtly different. Look into the depths of the blacks in Marshall's painting, no white has been added, the blacks have absolute value and demonstrate that black can have complexity, be beautiful with rich intensity.
     The exhibition also reunites five paintings of Marshall's Garden Project series, pictures from the mid-1990s that serve to complicate the idea of public housing as bleak or desolate. For the first time in 20 years, included among these is Watts 1963, where the 8-year-old Marshall and his family lived when they first moved to California in 1963.
MARSHALL THE MAN Born in 1955 in Birmingham, Alabama,before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, he grew up in Los Angeles and was witness to the Watts rebellion in l965.  Marshall has long been an inspired and imaginative chronicler of the African American experience. He holds a BFA (1978) and honorary doctorate (1999) from the Otis College of Art and Design. Marshall is a hometown resident of Chicago where has lived since the late 1980s.   The show originated at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  As a storyteller, Marshall is a born raconteur. In the painting, Souvenir 1 (1997) a middle-aged woman wearing glitter-encrusted golden wings arranges her living room as a shrine to the 1960s civil rights martyrs.  
Kerry James Marshall's "Souvenir 1" (1997)
     Thomas B. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art said, "The exhibition is an important body of work that fills a void in the history if art to tell stories about people we don't usually see at the Met."
     Kerry James Marshall Mastry is accompanied by a variety of educational programs at The Met Breuer, including family tours and exhibition tours. At The Met Fifth Avenue, an all-day symposium "Kerry James Marshall---A Creative Convening: will take place on Saturday January 28, 2017.  Additional information at
     Ta Ta darlings!!!  One visit is not enough to resonate with Kerry James Marshall.You will want to come back to Met Breur another time. The scale of his works are monumental and resonate in some cases with Renaissance magnitude. Fan mail always welcome at Visit Polly's Blogs at and click in the left-hand column to links to amazing Art Deco divas, visionary men, fashion and poetry.

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