KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, “Untitled (Gallery),” 2016 (acrylic on PVC panel). | Carnegie Museum of Art, The Henry L. Hillman Fund, © Kerry James Marshall

 

A FEW MONTHS AGO, the New York Times visited Kerry James Marshall in anticipation of “Mastry,” his 35-year survey opening at The Met Breuer on Oct. 25. The profile the Times published included a photograph of the artist in his studio seated next to a new painting, a canvas featuring a striking female figure fashionably dressed in green hues similar to Pantone’s 2017 Color of the Year. With so much attention on Marshall’s exhibition, looking back on his groundbreaking practice since 1980, it was fascinating to get a glimpse of the artist’s latest forward-looking work.

The Carnegie Museum of Art announced today that it has acquired the 2016 painting, “Untitled (Gallery).” The work traveled from Marshall’s Chicago studio to Frieze London, before finding a home at the Pittsburgh institution. David Zwirner, the artist’s London gallery, presented the painting at the UK art fair where the Carnegie put it on reserve. At the time, the museum confirmed to Culture Type that it hoped to acquire “Untitled (Gallery),” but was anticipating the meeting of its board for approval of the purchase. Today, calling Marshall “one of the greatest living painters in America,” the museum made it official and publicized the acquisition.

“Since the early 1980s, Marshall’s powerful works have asserted the black figure emphatically in the history and language of Western painting,” Eric Crosby, the museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art, said in the announcement. “’Untitled (Gallery)’ will resonate across the Carnegie’s collection from Old Master paintings to contemporary works, offering visitors a new point of entry into that history.”

“Since the early 1980s, Marshall’s powerful works have asserted the black figure emphatically in the history and language of Western painting. ‘Untitled (Gallery)’ will resonate across the Carnegie’s collection from Old Master paintings to contemporary works, offering visitors a new point of entry into that history.” — Carnegie Curator Eric Crosby

The connection between Marshall and the museum dates to 1999, when he created a special work for the “Carnegie International” exhibition. “Marshall produced RYTHM MASTR, a multipart comic strip published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was used to paper over display case windows at the museum. At the time, Marshall’s work did not enter the collection, so this acquisition fills a gap in CMOA’s holdings, while also reflecting on the legacy of the International,” the museum noted.

Marshall has long said that he paints unapologetically black figures using black paint in order to push the Western canon of art history in a more diverse and representational direction. Images of black people and the black experience, on large-scale canvases, should hang in museums alongside the so-called “masters,” Marshall contends. The artist is making major inroads, the Carnegie acquisition is the most recent.

The museum described the painting thus:

    “‘Untitled (Gallery)’ depicts a single female figure posing as if for a snapshot against the white wall of a gallery lined with framed black-and-white photographs. Spotlights illuminate the artworks, creating concentric rings of light on the wall. Beside the figure hangs a photograph of a nude woman lying on a bearskin rug in front of a fireplace—a familiar pinup trope but also a reference to glamorous 1930s Hollywood production stills. The juxtaposition prompts a host of questions: Is the subject of the painting also the subject of the photograph? Is she the artist? The curator or perhaps the gallerist? In addition to its many possible interpretations, Marshall’s painting demonstrates his mastery of the medium and his encyclopedic knowledge of its history at each turn.”

“Untitled (Gallery)” will debut at the Carnegie Museum of Art next July when it appears in “20/20: The Studio Museum in Harlem/Carnegie Museum of Art.” Exploring race and economic inequality in America, the collaboration between the two institutions will present 20 works each from their respective collections in dialogue. CT

 

BOOKSHELF
“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.” Another volume, “Kerry James Marshall: Look See” coincided with the artists’s first exhibition with David Zwirner gallery in London in 2014.