Kerry James Marshall is a pre-eminent American painter working today. The exhibition presents approximately 20 paintings exemplary of Marshall’s practice.
For Marshall, social responsibility means creating artworks that both celebrate and unravel the black experience in America. His Garden Projects is a series of vibrant urban scenes based on public housing projects on the South Side of Chicago and Watts, responding to the US government’s utopian, failed ideal of providing affordable housing to a growing population. The middle class living rooms in the Souvenir paintings of the late 1990s offer scenes made with a diversity of media and a certain meticulousness and restraint. They represent aspects of the civil-rights struggles of the 1960s and include portraits of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., John and Bobby Kennedy and less identifiable characters alongside inscriptions memorializing other heroes and victims of this historical movement. The more recent Vignettes present idyllic images of black couples in sumptuous romantic landscapes reminiscent of eighteenth century Rococo paintings, inserting the black figure into an historical narrative in which they have traditionally been absent. Marshall’s twenty-five year practice is characterized by historically informed explorations of the representation of the black figure in pictorial space, and an investigation of the critical pretensions of the fine art establishment in which he participates.
Mark Bradford, Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio, USA