© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Kerry James Marshall, American (Birmingham, Alabama born 1955)
Work Type
Level 2, Room 2210, West Arcade
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Physical Descriptions
Acrylic on PVC panel
184.79 x 155.58 x 10.16 cm (72 3/4 x 61 1/4 x 4 in.)
[Jack Shainman Gallery, New York], sold; to Harvard Art Museum, 2008.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Richard Norton Memorial Fund and purchase through the generosity of Nancy B. Tieken
© Kerry James Marshall
Accession Year
Object Number
Modern and Contemporary Art
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Label Text: 32Q: 1120 Contemporary Art , written 2014
This work is a study in blackness. Gazing directly at the viewer, the subject embodies the role of creator, a privileged position memorialized in portraits from the Renaissance to the present. Marshall has connected this work to the cultural critic Langston Hughes’s famous 1926 essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” which urged African American artists to embrace black culture, paint “Negro faces,” and eschew the aesthetics of “whiteness.” Marshall’s work answers Hughes’s call in part by placing abstraction — considered the great advancement of the Western avant-garde in the twentieth century — in a black context. The central figure, painted in a realist style, occupies a shallow space between planes created in different modes of abstraction — the painterly marks of the palette in the foreground and the linear ones formed by the wet edges of canvases leaving imprints on the wall behind him. In this way, Marshall renders abstraction as paradoxically incidental to the black artist’s process and yet central to the subject of this painting.

Publication History

Kerry James Marshall: Being and Artist, website, Art21, Inc., 2008, ill.

Cate McQuaid, Contemporary art in the foreground at Harvard Art Museums, The Boston Globe (Boston, MA, November 1, 2014)

Helen Molesworth, ed., Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, exh. cat., Skira Rizzoli Publications, Inc. (New York, 2016), p. 179, pl. 53, ill. (color)

Carroll Dunham, "The Marshall Plan: Kerry James Marshall's 'Mastry'", Art Forum (New York, 2017), Vol. 55, No. 5, cover, Cover

Kathy Halbreich, ed., Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York and Laurenz Foundation, Schaulager (New York, 2018), p. 120, ill. (color)

Exhibition History

Re-View: S118 European & American Art since 1900, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 09/13/2008 - 04/09/2011

32Q: 2210 West Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 04/02/2019 - 01/01/2050

32Q: 1120 Contemporary Art, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014 - 04/06/2016

Kerry James Marshall: Mastry, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Chicago, 04/23/2016 - 09/25/2016; The Met Breuer, New York, 10/25/2016 - 01/29/2017; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, 03/12/2017 - 07/02/2017

Subjects and Contexts

Iconic Works

Related Media

Visual description by Correna Cohen, Curatorial Fellow, Division of Academic and Public Programs. Written August 2018.

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Modern and Contemporary Art at am_moderncontemporary@harvard.edu