“Buy Black” by Kerry James Marshall on view at “Black Eye” group exhibition curated by Nicola Vassell, May 2014 in New York | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


AMERICA’S THIRST FOR HOLIDAY CONSUMPTION, paired with retailers desperate push to convince consumers to spend, spend, spend so that they can maximize revenues during the most profitable time of year, is no longer confined to the post-Thanksgiving shopping season. The week before the turkey celebration, pre-‘Black Friday’ sales were underway and stores opened on Thanksgiving in the after-dinner hour plying shoppers to take advantage of deals and start stocking up on gifts.

iraaa - buy black coverThe buying frenzy at the mall parallels the art world’s increasing focus on value and pricing, rather than ideas and aesthetics. The climate reminds me of a poignant exhibition Kerry James Marshall mounted at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York last fall.

“Dollar for Dollar” explored the irony of the commodification of the art world with works with such titles “On Sale Black Friday,” “Red Hot Deal” and “Buy Black.” The gallery says the sculptures and paintings presented “provide a framework for this confluence of money, power, agency, autonomy and access, explored through a linchpin of language and symbols. Marshall creates an alternate archive that acknowledges the real-politic of the art making enterprise.”

The series examines the socio-poltical aspects of the American economy, issues of value and real cost in art making, and the role of culture as currency.

“I am really looking at the way that the art work as a commodity announces itself as a thing to be bought. These works in a sense cry out to be bought,” says Marshall in the video below. “I’ve taken a lot of these slogans that announce the intention of a thing to be bought and to address itself as an object that is as a part of the system of commodifications and the system of valuation and the system of consumption. These things announce themselves to be that, but there is something else about them. They are not just plain signs like any other sign you’d see in the supermarket or any sign that you’d see in the department store, there is another dimension to the work that participates in a dialogue with the history of painting.” CT


Kerry James Marshall’s “Dollar for Dollar” exhibition was on view at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York from Sept. 10 to Oct. 12, 2013.


IMAGE: Above right, Marshall’s “Buy Black” featured on the cover of the International Review of African American Art, Volume 25, Issue No. 1, published earlier this year.



Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is an independent editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.