Kerry James Marshall: Mastry at the MCA


In a 2012 interview with curator Dieter Roelstraete, Kerry James Marshall recalled that his kindergarten teacher rewarded well-behaved students with the opportunity to look through her scrapbook full of photos, cartoons, and cards. Marshall noted that decades later he had amassed his own archive of thousands of images, which continue to inspire his paintings, collage and photography.

The interview was published in a catalogue accompanying Marshall’s exhibition Painting and Other Stuff, which toured four European institutions. Four years later, Marshall is sharing his impressive oeuvre, spanning 35 years, with American audiences. The retrospective, Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, now on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), will travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles. 

Mastry, which focuses primarily on painting, reaches back to Marshall’s beginnings as a recent graduate from the Otis Institute of Art in Los Angeles. There he began exploring issues of identity and visibility as black male artist. Marshall grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and moved to Los Angeles in 1963, just before the Watts riots. An avid drawer as a child, Marshall was encouraged to attend the Otis Institute by a high school teacher, who introduced him to his future mentor and close friend, social-realist painter Charles White. 

Marshall, a devoted technical master in his own right, confronts the Western art historical canon with large-scale portraits, landscapes and interiors that depict the complex vibrancy of black middle-class life. Using both narratives from African American history and his deep understanding of the history of art, Marshall questions aspirations of the middle-class and complicates aesthetic and social interpretations of blackness. The exhibition also includes a wall installation, commissioned by the MCA, featuring characters from Marshall’s comic Rythm Mastr.

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago thru September 25, 2016.


Pictured at top: Kerry James Marshall, School of Beauty, School of Culture, 2012. Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art; Museum purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth (Bibby) Smith, the Collectors Circle for Contemporary Art, Jane Comer, the Sankofa Society, and general acquisition funds. Photo: Sean Pathasema.