2018 Triennial Archive

Kerry James Marshall

Cleveland Museum of Art
11150 East Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106
Tues, Thurs, Sat–Sun: 10–5, Wed, Fri: 10–9


One of the most influential artists of our time, Kerry James Marshall (American, born 1955) is known for his groundbreaking body of work representing narratives composed entirely of African American figures. By inserting black protagonists into traditional Western art genres, Marshall proposes alternatives to the pictures he grew up studying in the pages of art history books. He has described his work as a “counter- archive,” an endeavor that is exemplified in the large woodcut on view in this exhibition. Evoking European Renaissance monumental woodcuts, Marshall’s work here replaces grand narratives with a quiet scene in which six black men casually socialize in a modest domestic interior. Marshall’s deep and wide-ranging knowledge of art history is evident in his work across a variety of media. The drawings on view reveal his reliance on strategies and techniques associated with Old Master traditions—such as perspective studies, chiaroscuro (the classical handling of light and shadow), and anatomical analysis—even as his art questions many of the ideals that those traditions support.

In conjunction with Kerry James Marshall: Works on Paper at the CMA, a selection of works from Marshall’s comic series Rythm Mastr series is on view at the Cleveland Public Library. In these works, he animates the history and mythology represented by traditional African sculpture, developing an array of black protagonists that populate his narrative frames. This collaborative presentation was designed in part as recognition of the role that public libraries played in Marshall’s early development as an artist.

Artist Biography

Marshall was born in Alabama in 1955, and grew up in Watts, Los Angeles. He is a 1978 graduate of the Otis College of Art and Design and currently lives and works in Chicago. In his PBS Art21 special Marshall said, “You can’t be born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1955 and grow up in South Central [Los Angeles] near the Black Panthers headquarters, and not feel like you’ve got some kind of social responsibility. You can’t move to Watts in 1963 and not speak about it. That determined a lot of where my work was going to go…”

A major survey, Kerry James Marshall: MASTRY is on view at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles from March 12–July 2, 2017. The survey was previously on view at The Met Breuer; and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Other solo exhibitions in the past few years include Kerry James Marshall: In the Tower at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC (2013); Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff, organized by the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen, Belgium (2013), and traveled to the Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Denmark (2014); Antoni Tapies Foundation, Barcelona (2014) and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid (2014).

Marshall has work in numerous public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Birmingham Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He is the recipient of several awards, grants and fellowships including the MacArthur genius grant in 1997. Kerry James Marshall was selected to exhibit in the 2015 Venice Biennale: All the World’s Futures, May 9 – November 22, 2015.