press release

This exhibition of new work by nationally acclaimed artist Kerry James Marshall explores the meaning of black aesthetics. This term first gained currency in the 1960s within the Black Power movement to foster black cultural pride and to create standards of beauty and judgment based on African-American ideals as opposed to Western values. Marshall draws upon the rich layering of language, music, and art characteristic of black expression to extend this primarily literary and musical concept into the visual arts. The work in the exhibition fuses political and social realities of the African-American experience, connections to Africa, to slavery, and to the resulting diaspora with western art historical styles. The exhibition includes sculpture, painting, video, photography, and assemblage. The phrase One True Thing in the exhibition title refers to Marshall's original exhibition concept of creating one work in each medium. It is also meant to be ironic since black aesthetics are complex and cannot be defined simply as "one thing."

From a portrait of the first African-American, to a nighttime photograph of the Ebony Jet sign atop a Chicago building, to an all-black painting, Marshall's work evokes a lyrical and poetic sensibility in honoring blackness, and in illustrating the ongoing struggles within the African-American community. Marshall, originally from Birmingham, states: "You can't be born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1955 and not feel like you've got some kind of social responsibility. You can't move to Watts in 1963 and grow up in South Central [Los Angeles] near the Black Panthers headquarters and see the kinds of things I saw in my developmental years, and not speak about it. That determined a lot of where my work was going to go." A recipient of the coveted McArthur "Genius" Fellowship, Marshall is one of the most important contemporary artists in the United States. He currently teaches art at the University of Illinois.


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Kerry James Marshall