Kerry James Marshall show at the Met Breuer

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The Kerry James Marshall show at the Met Breuer was the best show I’ve seen in a while. I’ve always liked his work, but seeing the paintings exhibited chronologically and shown all together cemented my respect. It was a sum-is-greater-than-the-parts experience, and a magical one at that. The paintings spoke to one another, creating a rich symphonic sound much more complex than the sound of a single instrument. For example, seeing an early, smaller, more abstract, almost all-black painting in a room adjacent to a much larger and more narrative canvas added a depth to both that I have never previously noticed (having only before seen isolated individual paintings separated geographically — i.e., in different museums). The abstract ones subsequently feel more narratively sophisticated and the more figurative ones feel more scintillating in an abstract, compositional and formal way. Although I think Robert Colescott is still the great and underappreciated genius of American painting who speaks to art history even better than KJM (and with more humor as lagniappe), KJM’s work is extremely impressive in opening up a dialogue with the history of art. Playful allusions and clever citations abound. While I’m still waiting for Colescott to get his due, I’m celebrating the fact that after this brilliant show, KJM is no longer an invisible man.

Nicole Charbonnet

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