We see headlines that the art market is booming because an auction in contemporary art did well or maybe that just a few paintings brought records. But that does not mean that all contemporary art is doing well. What about Native American Art? What about 21st century Design? What about art by African Americans?
I don’t even remember learning about African American art at university except maybe Jacob Lawrence one of the few African Americans to make it into my Art 1 course. Of course, the problem is that we make these distinctions and that you have to take a separate course, if it exists, in these different areas. And you thought that it was only Asian art that you were missing?
Artists want to be known as Artists without the modifiers. Thanks to the Met Breuer museum in New York I was introduced to Kerry James Marshall. Actually, I might not have gone to see the show if it had not been brought to my attention by Nancy Hoving, widow of the Metropolitan Museum Director and medievalist , Tom Hoving. I thought if Nancy recommended it I should take a look and I am certainly glad I did.
The exhibition Kerry James Marshall: Mastry was organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It was co-curated by Helen Molesworth, Chief Curator, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Dieter Roelstraete, Guest curator for the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; and Ian Alteveer, Associate Curator, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Kerry James Marshall was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1955, grew up in Los Angeles, went to Otis College of Art and Design in LA, worked in museums in New York and now lives and works in Chicago. In his own words, “You can’t be born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1955 and grow up in South Central [Los Angeles] near the Black Panthers headquarters, and not feel like you’ve got some kind of social responsibility. You can’t move to Watts in 1963 and not speak about it. That determined a lot of where my work was going to go…”
An apt picture to close with is “Untitled 2008” from a private collection courtesy of Segalot, New York. I presume the artist thinks this painting needs no explanation. It is, of course, about looking into the future or getting lost in nature. To me it recalls paintings by Caspar David Friedrich (German 1774-1840). Here are illustrations of the Marshall and “Two Men Contemplating the Moon” by Friedrich in the Metropolitan Museum.
The exhibition presents a lot of social commentary which you can already see in Past Times but generally I have avoided that subject here. if you get to see the show you won’t miss it. For me it is the common values between the black and white experience that resonate in Marshall’s work. The exhibition has closed at the Met Breuer but you have another chance to see it at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art from March 3 to July 3, 2017.