Last night, I had the good fortune of being Margaret's "plus one" for the Kerry James Marshall opening at the National Gallery of Art. Prior to last evening, I was familiar with Marshall's work but had only seen it in reproduction, which unsurprisingly does not do it justice at all. The sheer scale of his paintings (they're huge!), let alone the subject matter, is incredibly moving; this powerful show is not to be missed.
Born in 1955 in Birmingham, Alabama, Marshall now lives and works in Chicago. This is his first solo exhibition in Washington and it centers on Great America, acquired by the National Gallery of Art in 2011. Comprised of 10 paintings and more than 20 sketches, the exhibition is a testament to Marshall's commitment to the legacy of American history painting and how events of the past are still very much with us today. Look quickly and you might miss George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in Visible Means of Support: Mount Vernon and Visible Means of Support: Monticello (pictured below).
The centerpiece of the show, Great America, is rife with imagery that extends throughout the other works in the exhibition. Water makes a key appearance in almost every painting and Marshall often places his figures in transitional states of being (baptisms, slave ships transporting people to America, a woman about to plunge into a swimming pool, etc.). Much of his work deals with America's colonial history and how that past still exists and affects society today.
Powerful, dark, expressive and beautiful, it's worth the spiral stair climb it takes to see the show. In the Tower: Kerry James Marshall will be on view June 28th - December 7th, 2013 in the East Building Tower.
Artwork: Visible Means of Support: Mount Vernon 2008, Visible Means of Support: Monticello 2008, Great America 1994.