The now nearly 600 year history of painting contains remarkably few African American painters and even fewer representations of black people. Marshall, a child of the civil rights era, set out to redress this absence. “You can’t be born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1955 and grow up in South Central [Los Angeles] near the Black Panthers headquarters,” Marshall has said, “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…”
The exhibition will unfold in chronological order, allowing the viewer to trace the development of Marshall as a painter. The exhibition also charts our nation’s evolving ideas and attitudes towards race, beginning with a an exploration of Ralph Ellison’s classic novel Invisible Man, which explores the lack of legibility of African Americans in the culture at large, to a suite of paintings dedicated to the exploration of Black love, to portraits of members of the Cato slave rebellion, and culminating in paintings made during the Obama presidency, which feature a stunning set of portraits of black artists at work in their studios. The exhibition catalogue, edited by MOCA Chief Curator Helen Molesworth, chronicles Marshall’s career and contains sumptuous color plates of all of the works in the exhibition. It is the most authoritative book on the artist’s work to date. Kerry James Marshall: Mastry is organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.