Black Art: In the Absence of Light
“Black Art: In the Absence of Light, [is] a rich and absorbing documentary directed by Sam Pollard (MLK/FBI) and debuting on HBO Tuesday night.
The feature-length film, assembled from interviews with contemporary artists, curators and scholars, was inspired by a single 1976 exhibition, Two Centuries of Black American Art, the first large-scale survey of African-American artists. Organized by the artist David C. Driskell, who was then-head of the art department at Fisk University, it included some 200 works dating from the mid-18th to the mid-20th century, and advanced a history that few Americans, including art professionals, even knew existed.”
For its September 2020 issue, American Vogue invited Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel to create paintings for the cover of the magazine.
“Marshall, 64, whose 2016–17 retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art confirmed his status as one of the greatest living artists...created a fictional character, as he always does in his paintings, and dressed her in a white formal evening dress by Off-White. The dress is spectacular, but what your eye goes to is the face. ‘I’m trying to build into her expression that she’s not dependent on the gaze of the spectator,’ he told me during one of our frequent telephone calls. ‘I’m here and you can see me, but I’m not here for you.’ That’s a critical element. The great word, ultimately, is going to be ‘self-possessed.’ That’s what I’m aiming for.’
The Black figures Marshall paints have skin so dark that it is, as he says, “at the edge of visibility.” Like Ad Reinhart’s black paintings, I asked. He responded that the comparison was apt: “Reinhart said he was turning the light out on painting. But if you’re going to be at the edge of visibility, you’ve gotta put all the information in there. The reality is that even when the lights are off, everything that was in the world is still there. You have to put it in there so that if people actually look hard, they can see it. The point is to show that blackness is rich and complex, within the blackness alone.’”
Read the full feature and see the artist’s preparatory sketches for the painting in Vogue.
Kerry James Marshall’s Rythm Mastr in the 57th Carnegie International
October 13, 2018–March 25, 2019
Visitors to the Carnegie Museum of Art’s 57th Carnegie International in Pittsburg had the opportunity to see Kerry James Marshall’s epic comic Rythm Mastr (1999–ongoing). The series, which the artist developed in response to the lack of black characters in comics, was first shown during the 1999/2000 Carnegie International as a site-specific installation—when Marshall papered display cases in the museum’s Treasure Room with segments from the series on newsprint—and as installments in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s magazine. "I thought this was a moment to return to Kerry’s first touchstone at the Carnegie where he launched this major body of work," said Ingrid Schaffner, curator of the 57th Carnegie International. Schaffner’s decision to bring Rythm Mastr back into the museum this year is partly in recognition of their acquisition two years ago of Marshall’s painting Untitled (Gallery) (2016), which relates to a body of work that debuted in Look See, the artist’s 2014 solo exhibition at David Zwirner.
"I have had a deep love for comics since my youth," Marshalls says, "and sought a remedy for the absence of black characters in the genre. Beginning with the three overlapping narratives: Rythm Mastr, P-Van, and On The Stroll, the project has expanded other stories to include the daily life of "Black Metropolis." The scope of this work has to achieve the same epic scale because the goal has always been to match the level of complexity achieved in such epic tales as the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter sagas."
Rythm Mastr is also the subject of an interview published in Artforum in 2000 and an extensive feature published this year in Culture Type. Sections from Rythm Mastr were included in Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, a critically acclaimed retrospective presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, The Met Breuer in New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles from 2016 to 2017. Kerry James Marshall: Works on Paper was on view at The Cleveland Museum of Art through October 21, 2018, as part of the inaugural FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial of Contemporary Art, and Kerry James Marshall: Collected Works continued through at the Rennie Museum in Vancouver through November 3, 218.
History of Painting, the artist’s second solo exhibition with the gallery, was on view at David Zwirner in London through November 10, 2018
June 2–November 3, 2018
Rennie Museum in Vancouver presented Kerry James Marshall: Collected Works, its first solo exhibition of the artist. Surveying more than thirty works created over three decades, this presentation included seminal paintings and sculptures drawn exclusively from the Rennie Collection.
Described by critic Holland Cotter as "one of the great history painters of our time," Marshall is well known for his paintings depicting actual and imagined events from African-American history. Among the paintings on view marking significant developments in the artist’s practice was Invisible Man (1986)—taking its name from Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel—an early example of Marshall’s deft black on black tonal technique portraying at once the premise of black invisibility and the power of visualizing blackness. Developed from a series that focuses on public housing projects in cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, the monumental canvas Garden Party (2004–2013) demonstrates Marshall’s synthesis of different painterly genres and traditions into a backyard scene that the artist returned to again and again to rework and reimagine. Also on view together for the first time in North America, three monumental eighteen-foot-wide paintings Untitled (Red) (2011), Untitled (Black) (2012), and Untitled (Green) (2012) echo the form of Barnett Newman’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III (1967) while employing the colors of the Pan African flag. Major sculptural works in the show included the large-scale installation Untitled (Black Power Stamps) (1998)—the first piece by Marshall to enter the Rennie Collection—and Wake (2003–2005), which references the first landing of African slaves in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.
Kerry James Marshall: Collected Works was the artist’s first solo exhibition in Vancouver since 2010, when the city’s Art Gallery presented some twenty paintings and prints in his debut solo show in Canada. For art historian Jordan Kantor, that exhibition provided "a valuable chance to take stock of Marshall’s position vis-à-vis the histories of painting he strategically engages. The picture that emerges . . . is of an artist committed to using the formal conventions of European picturemaking in and of themselves and as springboards for contemporary political and cultural commentary." The artist’s sculpture As Seen on TV (1998–2000) was included in the group show Winter 2015 at Rennie Museum two years ago.
From 2016 to 2017, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, an unprecedented American museum retrospective surveying thirty-five years of the artist’s work, traveled from the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago to The Met Breuer in New York before concluding its critically acclaimed tour at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
Image: Installation view, Kerry James Marshall: Collected Works, Rennie Museum, Vancouver, 2018. Courtesy Rennie Museum. Photo by Blaine Campbell.
Kerry James Marshall’s A Monumental Journey was unveiled on July 12, 2018 at Hansen Triangle Park in Des Moines, Iowa. Commissioned by the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation, this epic monument—the first public sculpture by Marshall of this scope—honors the legacy of twelve African American lawyers who founded the National Bar Association in Des Moines in 1925 after they were denied membership to the American Bar Association. The work’s unveiling comes at a moment of public reckoning concerning the racism and erasures of American history in certain Civil War and early twentieth-century public monuments, and follows the opening this spring of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, which is dedicated to the more than 4,000 African Americans who were lynched in the United States.
A Monumental Journey’s thirty-foot-tall and nearly twenty-five-ton steel structure is sheathed in a black brick called manganese ironspot, and takes its shape from the West African talking drum of the Yoruba culture, an instrument named for its ability to echo human intonation. “On the one hand, I had been trying to find a way to use African sculptural forms as a starting point for an underlying aesthetic principle to evoke Africanness without resorting to bright colors and patterns,” Marshall told ARTnews last year, on the occasion of the monument’s groundbreaking ceremony. “On the other hand, it allowed me to talk about the ways in which information and ideas relating to things like equality and justice could be communicated over time and distances.” The sculpture’s site in a public plaza also includes a speaker’s platform, in the hopes of creating a future space for political activism and community. “It will be the only place where we invite you to come and yell and scream, and that’s what gives our project a tremendous amount of uniqueness,” one of the project’s organizers, Iowa District Associate Judge Odell McGhee, explained. At the work’s base, the twelve founding members of the National Bar Association are listed: George Cornelius Adams, Jesse Nathaniel Baker, S. J. Brown, Charles H. Calloway, Gertrude E. Durden Rush, Wendell E. Green, William H. Hayes, Charles P. Howard, Sr., Amasa Knox, James B. Morris, Cornelius Francis Stradford, and George H. Woodson. The National Bar Association is the country’s oldest and largest national association of predominately African American lawyers and judges.
Considering the legacy of public monuments in the United States, Marshall has suggested augmenting them with the presence of key African American figures rather than tearing them down. "There’s no way of erasing that history," Marshall was quoted in the Chicago Tribune. "They are objects of independence . . . but they are also monuments to slave owners." A Monumental Journey creates a new legacy of visible commemoration that serves the future as much as it is a revision of the past. "The monumental journey is to become truly modern," Marshall said of the work’s title in his interview with ARTnews. "It is to escape the dependency on a culture that has dominated you and oppressed you and to arrive at a true independence where you can do what you want, and act in your self-interest without having to ask permission."
The public dedication and celebration of A Monumental Journey took place at 11 AM. NBA president Juan Thomas and the politician, attorney, civil rights activist, and former NBA president, Arthenia Joyner, spoke during the ceremony. Marshall also gave a talk about his work hosted by the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation at Drake University at 6 PM on July 12.
A major survey of Marshall’s work is currently on view at the Rennie Museum in Vancouver. Kerry James Marshall: Works on Paper is on view at The Cleveland Museum of Art as part of the inaugural FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial of Contemporary Art through October 21, 2018.
Image: Kerry James Marshall, A Monumental Journey, 2018, (work in progress, June 2018), Manganese Ironspot brick, steel, granite; Commissioned by Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation; Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation Collection, 2018.1.
Marking the presentation of a London-themed painting by Kerry James Marshall at Tate Britain, the artist was in conversation about his work and career with Mark Godfrey, Tate Modern’s senior curator of international art.
Wednesday, May 16, 6:30 PM (ticketed event)
Starr Cinema at Tate Modern, London
Kerry James Marshall: Look See, the artist’s debut exhibition at David Zwirner, London, in 2014, marked his first solo show in the city since his 2005 presentation at the Camden Arts Centre. Two years later, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, an American museum retrospective surveying thirty-five years of the artist’s work, traveled from the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago to The Met Breuer in New York before concluding its critically acclaimed tour at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 2017. “One of the great history painters of our time,” Holland Cotter wrote in The New York Times; “That’s the painter you’ll see in Kerry James Marshall: Mastry.”
Recently on view at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas explored how these artists’ work challenges perceptions of race and representation, recasting the Western artistic canon.
Presented in the exhibition David Zwirner: 25 Years, this group of works belong to the artist's ongoing Dailies series, originally conceived for the 1999 Carnegie International at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Marshall, who has professed a deep love for cartoons and comics since his youth, sought in this project to address the absence of black superheroes, characters, and environments in mainstream comics. Comprising three parallel comic strips (Rythm Mastr, P-Van, and On The Stroll) that range from the quotidian to the fantastic, these narratives take place within the daily life of "Black Metropolis," the former nickname of the South Side Chicago neighborhood of Bronzeville, where Marshall's studio is located. As the artist has described, “I’m trying to produce an epic story of every aspect of people’s lives, from romance to gang violence to poverty to cultural identity. All these things have to be wrapped up in a story with black kids at the center of all of those activities. So at every level of human interaction, they are participating rather than seeing the reflection of what other people are doing.”1
The Dailies project has taken on a variety of forms since its inception, from ink drawings and newsprint broadsides, to lightbox displays and a 2015 mural, Above the Line, for the High Line in New York.
1 Kerry James Marshall quoted in Ellen Tani, "The World of Groundbreaking Artist Kerry James Marshall," artsy.net (April 21, 2016).
Throughout a career spanning four decades, Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955) has continuously interrogated and addressed black identity and its absence from the Western art historical canon. Across painting and a variety of different media, his complex and multilayered portrayals synthesize disparate genres, while seeking to counter stereotypical representations.
Unveiled December 4, 2017
Rush More is a major mural by Kerry James Marshall at the Chicago Cultural Center. Funded by by Murals of Acceptance, whose goal is to present art in free public settings, the mural measures 132 feet by 100 feet, and is the largest artwork ever designed or created by the artist.
The painting honors twenty women who have helped shape the city's cultural landscape. “I thought, well, in the history of monuments you have very few that represent women,” Marshall told the Chicago Tribune, “but in the history of Chicago you have very many women that played key roles in establishing culture here.”
Commissioned as part of Chicago's Year of Public Art, Rush More represents an important contribution from one of the city's most celebrated artists. “Kerry James Marshall is one of the most renowned artists in the world today,” Chicago's Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, said. “You think of Kerry James Marshall. You think of the women. You think of the building. . . . It’s a tremendous gift for the city.”
The exhibition, which explored the importance of artists' studios from the post-war period to the present day, included a photograph by Marshall titled Black Artist (Studio View) (2002) and Rhoades's installation Mixing Desk and Chair / Yellow Ribbon in Her Hair (2002).
Designed by the Spanish firm Aranguren + Gallegos Arquitectos, ICA Miami's new 37,500-square-foot location in the city's Design District provides double the exhibition space of its former building, with the addition of a 15,000-foot sculpture garden.
June 9—October 7
Untitled (policeman) (2015) by Kerry James Marshall was included in the group exhibition Blue Black at Pulitzer Arts Foundation.
Curated by the American artist Glenn Ligon and inspired by Ellsworth Kelly’s sculpture Blue Black (2000) which is permanently installed at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, the exhibition explored questions about language, identity, and perception through the lens of these two colors.
As Ligon explained in an interview with The New York Times, "there’s Kerry James Marshall’s policeman in uniform, where blackness as a racial identity and blackness as a color are conjoined—very different than [Ellsworth] Kelly’s intention but somehow connected through the two colors. That’s where the show started … "
The exhibition also included Blue Bathers (2014) by gallery artist Chris Ofili.
Kerry James Marshall: Mastry was the first major museum retrospective of the artist’s work. Following its debut at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA Chicago) from April 23 – September 25, 2016, the show was on display at the Met Breuer in New York from October 25, 2016–January 29, 2017. The exhibition was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (MOCA Los Angeles) through July 3, 2017.
Lori Waxman reviewed the exhibition in the Chicago Tribune stating: "What else to call Kerry James Marshall? Master, just like the title says." In a profile in The New York Times on the occasion of the Met Breuer presentation of the exhibition, Holland Cotter described the artist as "one of the great history painters of our time"; Marshall is the subject of an article by Barbara Isenberg in The Los Angeles Times.
Mastry featured works spanning 35 years of Marshall's career. The exhibition consisted of nearly 70 paintings, along with a selection of drawings, and works of related media such as photography, video, and sculpture. Organized in a broadly chronological order, it considered the dominant themes in the artist's practice, including history painting, landscape, portraiture, the nude, religion, and abstraction. These thematic concerns revolve around the interrogation of Western art history, which is central to Marshall's practice.
Skira Rizzoli published a monograph to accompany the exhibition. The book features reproductions of more than 100 works, texts by the exhibition's curators and noted scholars, and essays by Marshall himself.
Explore MCA Chicago's microsite for the exhibition, which highlights significant art historical works in relation to works by Kerry James Marshall.
From June 2015–March 2016, Kerry James Marshall’s mural Above the Line was on view on The High Line, an internationally recognized public park in New York near David Zwirner gallery in the Chelsea neighborhood. This was the artist’s first public commission in the city.
The hand painted mural was adapted specifically for The High Line from Marshall’s ongoing comic series Rythm Mastr, which depicts both fantastical and familiar narratives featuring African American characters. The mural imagines the redevelopment of rooftop water tanks as luxury homes and condominiums.
On the occasion of Kerry James Marshall's first exhibition with the gallery, David Zwirner Books published Look See. The catalogue reproduced every work in the show, as well as details, preparatory drawings, and installation photographs. The publication features an interview between Kerry James Marshall and David Zwirner Senior Partner Angela Choon, as well as a text by Robert Storr.
The Artist Project is an online series produced by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York which gives artists the opportunity to respond to the museum's encyclopedic collection. The Met invited Kerry James Marshall to participate in the second season of the project. In the video, he chose to discuss Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres's Odalisque in Grisaille. Marshall talks about Ingres's decision-making in the creation of the painting in relation to his own practice. "In my work, I'm really interested in the idea of how pictures are made, and the only way I can make that explicit is to have multiple approaches in the same picture," Marshall says.