A detail from a painting by Kerry James Marshall, called Untitled (Landscape), dated 2018.

Shadow Cabinet

Teju Cole explores shadow and substance in Kerry James Marshall’s paintings.

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In History of Painting, his eponymous exhibition at David Zwirner, London, in 2018, Kerry James Marshall widened his scope to include both figurative and nonfigurative works that deal explicitly with art history, race, and gender, as well as forcing us to reexamine how artworks are received in the world and in the art market. In the paintings in this book, Marshall’s critique of history and of dominant white narratives is present, even as the subjects of the paintings move between reproductions of auction catalogues, abstract works, and scenes of everyday life.

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A photo of the book Kerry James Marshall: History of Painting.

Shadow Cabinet

After A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self (1980; p. 10), the shadow henceforth is no longer only an extension of the self, or a riff on it, or a mere variation on it. It is the self, and the self is the shadow.

Shadow and substance have played around each other a long time. Since before Shakespeare wrote: “What is your substance, whereof are you made, /That millions of strange shadows on you tend?”

In Kerry James Marshall, substance and shadow merge, as in a total eclipse, transfiguring the perceptual landscape.

Read the full essay by Teju Cole

Image: Kerry James Marshall, Untitled (Landscape), 2018

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