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Kerry James Marshall: One True Thing, Meditations on Black Aesthetics


The Baltimore Museum of Art presents a major exhibition of new work by nationally acclaimed artist Kerry James Marshall. On display from June 20 through September 5, 2004, Kerry James Marshall: One True Thing, Meditations on Black Aesthetics examines black history, identity, and cultural tradition through more than 40 works, including paintings, sculpture, photography, installation, and video. Additionally, Marshall will be at the BMA on opening day, June 20, to discuss his work, and he will curate an exhibition this summer at Artscape, Baltimore's premier arts festival. (right: 7 am Sunday Morning , 2003, acrylic on canvas, [1] Courtesy of the artist and the Jack Shainman Gallery, NY)

A painter, photographer, printmaker, and installation artist, Marshall's remarkable talent has earned him a coveted MacArthur Fellow "genius" award. Best known for large-scale paintings that reflect his engagement with social history, the civil rights movement, and his experiences as an African American, Marshall is represented in more than 30 public collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney Museum of American Art, San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art, and The Baltimore Museum of Art. [2]

"We are delighted to bring this highly regarded artist to Baltimore," said BMA Director Doreen Bolger. "Kerry James Marshall is an important voice in the African-American community, and these are some of his most powerful works to date."

Kerry James Marshall: One True Thing, Meditations on Black Aesthetics represents a new direction in Marshall's work in which he opens a dialogue on the issue of black aesthetics, the practice of being an artist, the question of integration versus assimilation, and notions of race.

"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," said Marshall. "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 term black aesthetics first emerged within the 1960s civil rights and Black Power movements as a way to raise awareness for black rights, foster black cultural pride, and develop strategies for African Americans to participate more actively in the mainstream of U.S. society. Throughout this exhibition, Marshall has drawn upon the dense and unique layering of language, music, and art characteristic of black expression to infuse Western art -- historical styles with the political and social realities of the African-American experience.

Examples of works in the exhibition include:

Memento #5, a glittery 9 by 13-foot canvas commemorating heroes of the civil rights movement Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Robert Kennedy.
7 am Sunday Morning, a monumental 10- by 18-foot painting depicting a street scene on the South Side of Chicago interrupted by the prismatic glare of the sun.
Garden Party, a four-minute DVD and corresponding painting that reinterprets Impressionist works like Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party with African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics enjoying a backyard gathering.
The Ladder of Success, an installation of colorful Plexiglass boxes each listing a traditional western virtue -- including honesty and punctuality -- and principles of the African-American celebration of Kwanzaa, such as creativity and faith.
Africa Restored, a three-part work that presents the continent as a vast sculpture adorned with medallions that pay homage to Africa as a source of creative inspiration.
Dailies, a continuation of the artist's RYTHM MASTR comic series that pits an urban superhero against the Chicago Housing Authority using a combination of futuristic and traditional African accoutrements.

Marshall will also curate an exhibition at Artscape, Baltimore's premier arts festival. Marshall will select six Baltimore-area artists from open submissions, and he will invite six artists from his hometown of Chicago to participate in Baltimore/Chicago Show, on display June 20­July 31, 2004 at the Decker Gallery in the Station Building at the Maryland Institute College of Art. The Artscape festival runs July 16-July 18.

Kerry James Marshall: One True Thing, Meditations on Black Aesthetics was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and curated by Elizabeth Smith, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator[3], with Tricia Van Eck, Curatorial Coordinator.Major support for the exhibition is provided by the Harris Family Foundation in honor of Bette and Neison Harris. Additional support is provided by The Joyce Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Peter Norton Family Foundation, The Boeing Company, and Loop Capital Markets.

In Baltimore, the exhibition is curated by Chris Gilbert, BMA Curator of Contemporary Art, and is sponsored by Piper Rudnick LLP and Brown Capital Management. Additional support is provided by Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III.



1. jpg image courtesy of media relations department, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

2. Acording to the August, 2003 exhibition press release from Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago:

Kerry James Marshall was born in 1955 in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in Los Angeles, California. He received his BFA from the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1978, and was an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1985. He was the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Foundation award in 1997, and his work has been featured at Documenta 10, the Whitney Biennial (1997), and the 2000 Carnegie International. Since 1993 he has been a professor at the School of Art and Design, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. His work is included in the collections at the MCA, The Art Institute of Chicago, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Corcoran Gallery and the Los Angeles County Museum. He is married to the actress Cheryl Lynn Bruce.

3. Acording to the August, 2003 exhibition press release from Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago:

Elizabeth Smith is James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator at the MCA, where she oversees the MCA's collection and exhibition program. Since her arrival in 1999 she has curated such exhibitions as Life Death Love Hate Pleasure Pain, as well as Donald Moffett: What Barbara Jordan Wore; Matta in America: Paintings and Drawings of the 1940's, Katharina Fritsch, and At the End of the Century: One Hundred Years of Architecture. She is curating the forthcoming exhibition Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective In 2000 she guest-curated the exhibition The Architecture of R.M. Schindler for MOCA, Los Angeles, which was named "Best Architecture or Design Exhibition of the Year" by the American section of the International Association of Art Critics. Educated in art history at Columbia University, Smith was Adjunct Professor in the Public Art Studies Program at the University of Southern California's School of Fine Arts from 1992-98. She has published Techno Architecture (Thames & Hudson, 2000) and Case Study Houses: The Complete CSH Program 1945-66 (Taschen Verlag, 2002). This exhibition is curated by Elizabeth Smith with Tricia Van Eck, MCA curatorial coordinator.

RL readers may also enjoy:

The Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College does a series called Otis Speaks. Kerry James Marshall spoke to students and the public September 7th 2008. He spoke about his life, his influences, and his art illustrated by images of his work. [6:49] Text from Otis College.


rev. 10/22/08

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Gallery Talk with Kerry James Marshall, Johnson County Community College, 1995 120 minute video (information courtesy Los Angeles County Museum of Art Teacher Resource Center Catalogue)

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