Kerry James Marshall, Great America, 1994, acrylic and collage on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the Collectors Committee, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Collectors Committee of the National Gallery of Art recently made possible the acquisition of Great America (1994) by Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955)―the Gallery’s first painting by the mid-career African American artist. The work will be on view beginning May 1 in the East Building's Concourse galleries.
"This year, the Collectors Committee's brought the Gallery a powerful painting by Kerry James Marshall," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "We are very grateful to the Collectors Committee, which enables the Gallery to continually enhance its holdings of contemporary art."
A devoted student of the human figure and the history of art, especially the genres of portraiture and narrative, Marshall draws upon the experience of African Americans like himself to create imposing, contemporary history paintings.
Marshall's mature career can be dated to 1980, when, inspired by the opening lines of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, he developed his signature motif of a dark, near-silhouetted figure in A Portrait of the Artist as His Former Self. Refusing both negative and positive stereotypes of black people, Marshall's figures of "extreme blackness" operate, he explains, "right on the borderline," forcing the viewer to find nuance and articulation within only apparently black forms. This strategy has been influential for younger artists, including Kara Walker and Glenn Ligon.
Great America is contemporaneous with Marshall's well-known Garden Project (1994-1995), a series of paintings based on housing projects with "gardens" in their names, such as Nickerson Gardens in Watts, where he grew up. In those works, Marshall sought to convey the dignity and complexity of lives set within difficult circumstances. In this work, he re-imagines a boat ride into the haunted tunnel of an amusement park as the Middle Passage of slaves from Africa to the New World. What might in other hands be a work of heavy political irony becomes instead a delicate interweaving of the histories of painting and race. The painting, which is stretched directly onto the wall, creates a screen or backdrop onto which viewers project their own associations triggered by the diaphanous yet powerful imagery.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1955, Kerry James Marshall grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from Otis Art Institute. After spending time as a fellow at the Studio Museum in Harlem, he moved to Chicago in 1987, where he still lives and works.
Source Link: http://www.nga.gov/press/2011/cc_2011.shtm