This retrospective is a stone-cold stunner which proudly insists on the place of African Americans in the American artistic imagination, using the tropes of exclusionary imagery to new, more moral ends
The election approaches; the nation seethes; the hatred festers; the dead start to talk. Old intolerances have come roaring back as the United States finally reaches the end of the most virulent, vacuous presidential contest in living memory. For African Americans, particularly, the catastrophe of Donald Trumps candidacy has appeared almost as a punishment for the election of the first black president, and the overt, unashamed racism of his campaign, leavened with promises of violence, has affirmed that American history does not have an inbuilt happy ending.
In any other year, the recently opened retrospective of the paintings of Kerry James Marshall at New Yorks Met Breuer would be a significant event. Against the current backdrop of racist demagoguery and national disbelief, it arrives as a godsend. This stone-cold stunner of a retrospective spanning two floors of the Mets luxury rental on Madison Avenue, and organized with judicious restraint by Ian Alteveer and Meredith Brown proudly insists on the place of African Americans in the American artistic imagination. And yet that is only one of its achievements. It also, and perhaps more powerfully, grounds that placement inside a larger western artistic tradition, and utilizes the very tropes and techniques once used in exclusionary imagery to new, more moral ends.(The show opened last April at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Marshalls hometown; Michelle Obama made time to see it. It travels next year to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.)