It is extraordinary to be given a museum retrospective as a living artist, and after seeing Mastry, the Kerry James Marshall retrospective at the Met Breuer, he truly deserves it. With paintings of portraiture, landscape, and tableaus, Marshall gives us the complexities of African American identity in America. With the current rise in visibility of xenophobia, hatred, and racism in America today, now more than ever it is imperative that we recognize the failings of the Western art historical canon to include people of color. This retrospective deftly creates space for black people in the canon, making the invisible finally visible.
|School of Beauty, School of Culture|
Acrylic on canvas
107 7/8 × 157 7/8 in
From this point on we see Marshall’s figures becoming more naturalistic and realistic. He also scales up to a more monumental size. Past Times, 1997 is an idyllic scene of aristocrats enjoying a picnic in the park, playing games and riding in boats on a pleasant lake. The pastoral scene directly references the rococo, but reinventing it for the modern viewer; to show black people as aristocratic elites expands art history to include the African American experience.
School of Beauty, School of Culture, painted in 2012, directly references many art historical traditions as well. In this painting, a beauty school comes to life with different characters in a colorful interior scene. Marshall can be seen in the mirror in the back of the painting but obscured by the flash of his camera, a reference to Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas. An anamorphic image of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is a direct reference to the anamorphic skull at the bottom of Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors. Many other art historical tropes are stitched together in this painting of a common staple of African American life, so that it seems that art history has been molded to at last depict the black experience.
Kerry James Marshall: Mastry
On view until January 29th, 2017
The Met Breuer
945 Madison Ave.