I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the chance to see Kerry James Marshall’s survey Mastry at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. His work is incredible, and seeing so many pieces together, telling the diverse stories of African Americans in this country was moving. I was encouraged, too, to see a wide variety of individuals visiting the exhibit: young and old, all races and ethnicities. Too often I only see a specific type visiting museums; this exhibit should teach museums a lesson to make their spaces more inclusive by including more voices in what is presented. There was a nod to this in the introductory wall panel:
“For the past thirty-six years, Kerry James Marshall has been driven by a mission to address the absence of black artists and subjects in the history of art. Like many African Americans born during the civil rights movement, Marshall’s worldview and artistic practice have been shaped by questions of racial representation. He has committed to filling the walls of museums with black figures, depicting black people almost exclusively and telling stories about black lives and history on a grand scale.
To compete with the great artists from past centuries while expanding the possibilities of representation, Marshall has methodically mastered a wide range of techniques and remixed almost every tradition of painting from the past 500 years. He takes on many of the genres of art - including history painting, landscape, portraiture, and abstraction - carrying the tradition of painting into the present. To do this, he incorporates references to history, pop culture, contemporary life, and his hometown Chicago. He also reenvisions how African Americans are depicted, mixing black pigments to create his own set of tones for the skin and features of his subjects. In his richly detailed paintings - complex, beautiful, and relevant to the challenges of our time - it pays to look, look closely, and look again.”
The show is now traveling, I hope many more have a chance to connect with Marshall’s work.