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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Emery

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry

I recently saw the Kerry James Marshall retrospective, Kerry James Marshall, Mastry, at the Met Breuer. New York is the middle stop for this revelatory exhibition which started in Chicago, and ends in Los Angeles. The show leaves New York on January 29th, and is not to be missed! 

Marshall's work illustrates, in many different ways and across different media, how non existent or "invisible" non-white figures are in the history of western art and culture, and how those few that exist are often rendered as supporting or background characters, or reduced to stereotypes. He gets this message across so appealingly that the revelations I came away with felt all the more powerful and life-shifting. Seeing this show, I came away with a clear understanding, as never before, of how alienating the dearth of black figures in art must be for people of color, and how rarely I had seen a major cultural institution put on a solo show, and retrospective of a black artist.  

The Met Breuer first opened last March, so this is its inaugural year. As one of its first exhibitions, it is off to a great start. As a graduate student in the history of the decorative arts, I had the privilege of spending a lot of time in NY's museums and cultural institutions with curators and directors, and there were a number of conversations about how to bring a more diverse audience in the doors. A show like this, which celebrates the work of a major artist, who himself is black, is rare, vital and refreshing. How many others are there who are worthy? How many others need to see someone like them creating art, and doing so in a such a powerful and relevant way, to know it is a possibility for them? 

It is also gratifying to see a show like this while the artist is still alive, evolving and creating. And I particularly appreciated the side gallery, where art work from the museum's collection was hand-selected by Marshall to illustrate some of his influences and inspirations. So often when we look at the work of artists in museums, particularly those long gone, we have to guess what they were thinking. While there is something to be gained from that kind of experience, here is a unique opportunity to see these pieces, as a rare and wonderful window into a brilliant artist's mind. One can just imagine the fun Marshall had picking and choosing, like a kid in a candy shop. It is also a wonderfully successful example of the Met Breuer's mission to create links between art of past times and present. 

Check out this video of Marshall speaking about his art:

For some more fascinating insight into this artist's mind, click on the following link:

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