Kerry James Marshall / Invisible Man
Rennie Museum presents a survey of works by Kerry James Marshall spanning thirty-two years of the artist’s career. Kerry James Marshall: Collected Works features pieces from the artist’s complex body of work, which interrogates the sparse historical presence of African Americans through painting, sculpture, drawing and other media.
Kerry James Marshall / Untitled (Green) 2012
Kerry James Marshall / Untitled (Red) 2012
Kerry James Marshall / Untitled (Black) 2012
The sculptural installation Untitled (Black Power Stamps) 1998, Marshall’s very first work acquired by Bob Rennie, aptly sets the tone of the exhibition. Five colossal stamps and their corresponding ink pads are dispersed over the floor of the museum’s four-story high gallery space. Inscribed on each stamp, and reiterated on the walls, are phrases of power dating back to the Civil Rights Movement: ‘Black is Beautiful’, ‘Black Power’, ‘We Shall Overcome’, ‘By Any Means Necessary’, and ‘Burn Baby Burn’. The sentiment reverberates through the three 18 feet (5.5 meter) wide paintings installed in the same room, respectively titled Untitled (Red) 2011, Untitled (Black) and Untitled (Green) 2012. Exhibited together for the first time in North America, the imposing paintings with their colors saluting the Pan African flag echo the form of Barnett Newman’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III (1967).
Kerry James Marshall / As Seen on TV, 1998-2000
Kerry James Marshall / Untitled (Black Power Stamps) 1998
Kerry James Marshall / Heirlooms and Accessories, 2002
Kerry James Marshall / Wake, 2003-2005
Commanding attention in the center of another room is (2003-2005), a sculptural work that focuses on the collective trauma of slavery. Draped atop a blackened model sailboat is a web of medallions featuring portraits of descendants of the approximately twenty African slaves who first landed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. Atop a polished black base evoking the deep seas, the medallions cascade over and behind the mourning vessel in a gilded procession, cast out in the boat’s wake. The work commemorates an entire lineage of people whose lives have been irrevocably affected by the traumatic history of slavery in the United States, while simultaneously celebrating the resilience and vivacity of the culture that flourished from it.
Kerry James Marshall, Angel of Mercy, 1992 / Untitled (La Venus Negra) 1992
Kerry James Marshall / Garden Party, 2004-2013
Garden Party (2004-2013) is a long-coveted painting that Marshall re-worked over the course of almost ten years. Created in a style that harkens 19th century impressionist paintings, the work depicts a scene of leisure – an array of multi-ethnic friends and neighbors casually gathered in a backyard of a social housing project. Painted on a flat canvas tarp and hung barely off the floor, the image highlights an often-overlooked perspective of the vibrant everyday life in the projects and invites its viewers to join in the gathering.
Kerry James Marshall, X-Men, 1989 / La Venus Negra, 1984
In a dimmed room is Invisible Man (1986) – a historic work and one of the first to feature Marshall’s now iconic black on black tonal painting. Referencing Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel of the same title, Marshall’s work makes literal the premise of black invisibility. Only distinguishable by his bright-white eyes and teeth, and the subtle warmth that delineates black body from black background, Marshall’s figure, like Ellison’s protagonist, subverts his own invisibility, using color as an emblem of power rather than of submission. The work’s presentation at Rennie Museum provides an opportunity for viewers to explore the full mastery with which Kerry James Marshall layers his various shades of black.