Art

Untitled

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American (Birmingham, Alabama born 1955)
Untitled, 1998, with 2007 additions
Print Series
American
,
21st century
Color woodcut with handcoloring
framed - overall (12 panels): 247 x 1501.1 cm (97 1/4 x 591 in.)
framed - each panel: 247 x 125.1 cm (97 1/4 x 49 1/4 in.)
AP edition of 3
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Margaret Fisher Fund
, 2007.129.A-L
Description
This work is comprised of twelve woodcut prints, each sheet 8 x 4 feet.
Commentary
Kerry James Marshall is best known for his politically and socially informed work - large-scale narrative paintings that depict the struggles of African Americans during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and scenes of poverty, hardship, and hope within America's public housing projects. This monumental print, though of the same magnitude, seemingly does not present the same historically and socially potent subject matter. Instead, it represents a rather banal scene: six black men within a sparse domestic interior, chatting over food and coffee. The interior view unwraps from the exterior of the building, revealing the outside wall, as well as three inside walls. Its "life-size" height and length (8 x 50 feet) accentuates the impression that the print surrounds and envelops its viewers. It is exactly the prosaic character of the setting and the interactions between the figures that Marshall underscores. He defies our expectations of what a group of assembled black men will look like. The culture's lingering and imbedded racism, particularly as evidenced in its image culture, leads us to expect these men to be seen as oppressed, rebellious, or even dangerous. Instead, they simply intermingle in a very mundane way. Thus, the artist's depiction of ordinary men in run-of-the-mill surroundings engaged in an everyday activity serves to expose the viewers' own racism by calling to mind their own expectations.
The domestic scene depicted by Marshall derives from the tradition of seventeenth-century genre scenes. Yet, he overturns the genre by populating it with a surprising cast of figures--thereby creating a genre out of a genre scene. The artist's acquaintance with and manipulation of the history of art is apparent throughout the image. Some of the figures' postures seem to reference poses from other renowned art works, i.e. the foreground figure on the left recalls the seated female from Manet's Luncheon in the Grass, as well as the reclining figure from the west pediment of the Parthenon. Marshall also references different genres of art making, such as the still life, landscape, and portraiture, both explicitly and overtly. Each of the darkened squares contain an obscured image-an example of each of these types of image making-overprinted with black, much in the same way he blackens the overall domestic scene. In this procedure is evident a willful blackening of visual culture and the history of art.
Provenance
Kerry James Marshall, Chicago, Illinois, to; [Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, New York], sold; to Harvard University Art Museums, August 2007.
Exhibition History
Recent Acquisitions, Part III: Kerry James Marshall, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 10/09/2012 - 12/29/2012