Kerry James Marshall: Mastry — #MetBreuer, NYC

“Kerry James Marshall: Mastry”

The Met Breuer, New York, October 25, 2016–January 29, 2017

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, March 12–July 2, 2017.


“Once you have mastered something, then you are free to choose for yourself which way to go, how high to go, how far to go. The lack of mastery makes you vulnerable to the imposition of somebody else’s will, in every respect. You can shape the world you want to live in too … But if you really want to be free, then you have to take charge of your capacity to shape the world.” (*Kerry James Marshall)

This cuts to the heart of Kerry James Marshall’s life and art — “Mastry.”

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry is a major retrospective of the premier American artist and focuses on the past thirty-five years of his art. The Chicago based artist is best known for his large scale works of black figures depicted within Western art historical traditions including historical tableau, landscape and portraiture. His work also includes the muralist tradition and the comic book (comics-inspired Rythm Mastr drawings, 2000–present).

Marshall is a former professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago’s School of Art and Design and his knowledge of art history runs deep. References to art traditions and artists abound in his works, from the Renaissance to the contemporary. He was born before the passage of the Civil Rights Act and witnessed the Watts riots in 1965. Marshall’s abiding, driving interest is in refashioning the image of the mostly absent, or negative, image of blacks throughout the tradition of Western art over the past hundreds of years, supplanting with powerful images of deliberately dark African Americans which draw directly from the complexities of the African American experience.

His oeuvre includes some of the most stunningly beautiful imagery, rich in allegorical representations of African American culture. Domestic interiors, political references, portraits, self-portraits — all inserting imagery of a people left out of the Western art historical narrative. Marshall’s depiction of ‘blackness’ is deliberate. His palette includes exactly seven distinct and rich formulations of blacks, each with specific additions of blues, yellow ochre and raw umber. Marshall clearly states his intention: “… that blackness is non-negotiable in those pictures. It’s also unequivocal — they are black — that’s the thing that I mean for people to identify immediately. They are black to demonstrate that blackness can have complexity. Depth. Richness.” (From Interview with Wyatt Mason, The New York Times Style Magazine, October 17, 2016, © The New York Times)

Kerry James Marshall’s work is in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and many other major American museums. Kerry James Marshall: Mastry opened in Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art and opens at the Met Breuer on October 25. Its final stop is Los Angeles, at the MOCA, next year.

— Jules Cavanaugh

*From conversation with his fellow Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates. Video, Publish Date October 17, 2016. © The New York Times

Featured Image: Kerry James Marshall (American, b. 1955): Untitled, 2009. Acrylic on pvc, 61-1/8 x 72-7/8 x 3-7/8 inches. Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY, USA. © Kerry James Marshall.

© 2016 I Require Art Studios, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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