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.
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).
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.