KJM - Plunge 1992
KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, “Plunge,” 1992 (acrylic and paper collage on canvas).


THE RECORD PRICE for paintings by Kerry James Marshall doubled last night at Christie’s New York. “Plunge” (1992), a large-scale painting by the Chicago artist sold for more than $2.1 million (including fees), a new auction record for the artist, according to Christie’s and Iris Index.

The sale estimate for “Plunge” was $1 million to $1.5 million, and the painting sold for $2,165,000. The previous auction record for a painting by Marshall was set in November 2014 when “Vignette” (2003), an acrylic on fiberglass, sold for $1,025,000 (including fees), also at Christie’s.

Sara Friedlander, Vice-President and Head of Evening Sale, Post-War and Contemporary Art said: “We are very pleased to see collectors gravitate to a broad spectrum of art, spanning from masterpiece-quality works, including Rothko’s No. 17, to artists who are quickly rising within the auction market. One such example is Kerry James Marshall, whose Plunge captivated the imagination of so many collectors and set a world auction record for the artist.”

A VISIONARY AND IMAGINATIVE PAINTER, Marshall is recognized for his thought-provoking explorations of American history and representations of the African American experience, using black paint for his black figures. “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” a major exhibition of his paintings opened last month at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

An acrylic and paper collage on canvas, “Plunge” depicts a figure wearing an animal print bikini, apprehensive about diving into a suburban backyard swimming pool. Similar to Marshall’s many other paintings featuring water, the image references the Middle Passage. The artist literally includes the word “Atlantic” in the pool’s water and, in turn, the toy tugboat that appears nearby takes on the symbolism of an ocean-faring slave ship.

Similar to Marshall’s many other paintings featuring water, the image in ‘Plunge’ references the Middle Passage.

“In the Tower,” Marhsall’s 2013 exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, his first in Washington, D.C., featured “Plunge.” He discussed the painting during a museum talk at the National Gallery.

WATCH VIDEO of Kerry James Marshall discussing “Plunge” (starting at 30:29)

“Plunge” includes specific text references to three kinds of dives—swan, layout, and backward one-and-a-half. Marshall said that each of the dives metaphorically has something to do with the way that we approach history.

“A lot of people would describe Afrocentricity as a backwards one-and-a-half because the idea of Afrocentricity in the first place is a reclamation project,” Marshall said.

“It’s the idea that if black folks in the Western hemisphere and in America could recover some of the lost grandeur, the lost glory, the lost autonomy, lost creativity that was taken from people who were brought from Africa to the Western hemisphere, then a lot of the problems that African Americans experience here, now, could be resolved and overcome.”

Now 60, the painter’s critical recognition reflects the complexity and beauty of his paintings and the intellectual heft of his practice. Dozens of museums have acquired his work and “Mastry” is presenting a comprehensive exploration of his paintings over the past 35 years. The survey of more than 70 paintings, including “Vignette,” will travel to the Met Breuer in New York in October, and next year be presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles.

READ MORE about “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” exhibition on Culture Type

This week Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips are holding their spring modern and contemporary art auctions in New York. In addition to Marshall, auction records were established for five other artists at Christie’s May 10 Post-War and Contemporary Art evening sale, including Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). An untitled 1982 painting was heavily promoted in advance of the sale and the auction headliner exceeded estimates selling for more than $57 million. It was the top lot of the sale, setting a world auction record for Basquiat.

Today’s evening auction at Sotheby’s features “Vignette #5” by Marshall. CT


TOP IMAGE: KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, “Plunge,” 1992 (acrylic and paper collage on canvas). | Estimate $1 million to $1.5 million. Sold for $2,165,000 (including fees).


“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.


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