LAST FRIDAY, FIRST LADY Michelle Obama viewed “Mastry,” the Kerry James Marshall exhibition at MCA Chicago. Marshall’s powerful paintings chronicle the African American experience. The exhibition documents the artist’s practice over the past three decades and features more than 70 paintings.
Returning to Chicago, where the Obama’s still own a home, the first lady toured the exhibition with Marshall, his wife Cheryl Lynn Bruce (an actor/writer/director), and Madeleine Grynsztejn, the museum’s director. The group posed for a photo in one of the exhibition galleries where Marshall’s portraits of anonymous African American artists are on view.
“Kerry James Marshall is making a lasting contribution to history with works that are aesthetically powerful, but also relevant to issues facing our society today – from racial injustice to the search for equality. At the same time, his paintings are beautiful, humanistic, and necessary. ” said Grynsztejn in a statement. “Mrs. Obama’s visit underscores the importance of this great artist, who is at once a hero of our city and also a pillar of the community.”
“Mrs. Obama’s visit underscores the importance of this great artist, who is at once a hero of our city and also a pillar of the community.”
— Madeleine Grynsztejn, Director, MCA Chicago
As first lady, Obama has shown support for visual arts. When the first family moved into the White House, works by African American artists Alma Thomas, William H. Johnson, and Glenn Ligon, were borrowed from local museums for display in the living quarters and office areas. In February 2015, Obama announced that “Resurrection” by Thomas is on view in the Old Family Dining Room. The painting is the first artwork by an African American woman to hang in the public spaces of the White House and enter the permanent collection.
Acquired by the White House in 2007, during the presidency of George W. Bush, Jacob Lawrence‘s “The Builders” (1947) remains on view in the Green Room. Its symbolism is perhaps a nod to a fact stated in Obama’s remarks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week. “That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves…,” she said.
When the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York inaugurated its new building in the Meatpacking District last spring, Obama participated in the dedication ceremony. Her remarks emphasized the importance of cultural institutions reaching out to and being welcoming to young people.
“There are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood,” Obama said. “In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum.”
Through Family Day and Teacher Exchange programming, MCA Chicago has welcomed students and the wider local community to experience and explore Marshall’s exhibition.
“Mastry” (April 23-Sept. 25, 2016) is co-organized by MCA Chicago with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. In the fall, the exhibition will travel to New York where it will open at The Met Breuer on Oct. 25. CT
TOP PHOTO: From left, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, First Lady Michelle Obama, Kerry James Marshall, Madeleine Grynsztejn. | Photo courtesy MCA Chicago
“Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” a comprehensive, cloth-covered catalog was published to accompany the exhibition and includes essays by the curators and writings by Marshall on a range of topics, from his Rythm Mastr comic series to artists Mickalene Thomas and Horace Pippin. An extensive interview with Marshall by curator appears in the exhibition catalog “Painting and Other Stuff.” “Kerry James Marshall: Look See” coincided with the artists’s first exhibition with David Zwirner gallery in London in 2014.