Kerry James Marshall @ National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
One of my favourite shows the Vancouver Art Gallery has ever presented was on the work of African- American, Chicago-based artist Kerry James Marshall in 2010 – it made Artforum’s annual roundup of best exhibitions that year, speaking to just how compelling it was. I was struck by the sheer power of Marshall’s work which draws upon black history, folk art styles and history painting. Today, the National Gallery of Artwill open Marshall’s first solo show in Washington, D.C. where he will present 10 paintings and more than 20 drawings which provide context for a work from the Gallery’s collection, Great America. Speaking about his socially strident work, Marshall states, “I try to make work about things that matter”. Standing in front of his monumental canvases, the viewer is confronted with the African-American experience on a grand scale, painted so that it takes its place on museum walls alongside the Euro-centric histories we are most often presented with. In an interview with exhibition curator James Meyer, Marshall stated:
When you walk through the museum you don’t have a sense that the variety of different people who made up the nation as a whole have many any real meaningful contributions to the development of this country in the ways that people talk about its greatness. And I think to finally start to bring into a place like the National Gallery somebody who does work like mine that is not always celebratory of American ideals, that has an ambivalent and at times critical relationship to the overall story, to finally start to allow that work to be seen and those narratives to be articulated, starts to fulfill the promises that the idea of the country and the founding documents set out to guide us.
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