It’s been a good few years for Kerry James Marshall. The Chicago-based painter opened his landmark show at The Met Breuer, a critically-lauded exhibition that toured the U.S. and earned the artist an impressive response from both viewers and critics. Now, the artist turns his attention towards a body of new paintings, the first new series produced since the Mastry exhibition, for a new show at David Zwirner’s exhibition location in London.
Marshall’s work has always drawn particular strength in its remarkable awareness of just what a paintbrush can do, pushing his style and abilities on canvas to render subjects with a remarkable formal acuity that simultaneously functions as a challenge to taste, knowledge and power. His work, boundlessly impressive in its interpretation and and reframing of so much of the landscape of painting through several centuries of compiled history, pushes the languages and nuances of various cultural framings and critical understandings through in each of his works.
Here in London, this translates to a particular interest not only in the history or practice of painting by itself, but equally towards the various structural and economic tentpoles that sustain the modern progression and evolution of the field. There are paintings of museum hallways, filled with black subjects perusing the works or sitting in deep concentration on the works, while in other works, subtle reflections of Renaissance portraiture or modern portraiture painting are used to echo the painting’s relationship to these spaces. By contrast, the artist has also included a series of comically-incisive paintings of grocery store price tags, each affixed with the name and price of a contemporary artist that makes the most impactful statements.
Throughout, Marshall’s understanding of the various framings and frameworks through which his work functions allows him to double back and double down on sharp critiques on the world around him. These price tag pieces would seem a relatively lifeless statement on their own, a relatively tame statement on market taste and money that has certainly been made before. Yet, when posed against the rich life and figurative mastery he shows in the rest of his pieces on view, the distinct references to formalist rigidity and absence of humanity seem to make the market’s presence and interest in these pieces all the more cutting. Marshall even takes it a step further in his presentation of an abstract painting in one corner, colorful blurs and pocks of color that almost seem to state “I can do that too.”
Moving on from an exhibition that already showed the artist’s relentless drive to cover an expansive amount of conceptual and figurative ground over the course of his career, Marshall’s new show at Zwirner’s London space emphasizes just how much further he’s capable of pushing.
The show is on through November 10th.
— D. Creahan
Kerry James Marshall: History of Painting [Exhibition Site]