Let’s talking about an artist that in the past year has seen amplified the interest by the contemporary art world. Thanks to a retrospective that started from the Met Breuer through the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and ending up at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The exhibition represented an important recontextualization of the artist’s work, highlighting the importance of his practice and establishing his position within the canon of the American art.
The paint “Past Times” was recently sold with the highest price ever paid for a work of art by an African American artist still alive. Rapper Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs has been unmasked as the buyer of a $21.1 million painting by Kerry James Marshall.
Considered one of the most important American contemporary artists, Kerry James Marshall has always tried to force boundaries, restrictions and canons of traditional art history, he’s aiming to restore a dignity of presence into the “art world” by the “black art” and redefine the past, present and future of the more traditional American and international cultural and artistic conventions, in a now global and cosmopolitan world.
“Past Times” is an example of poetics totally aimed at reclaiming the presence of black people within the canons of Western art. In fact, “Past Times” tries to re-imagine the history of art, starting from famous models of bucolic and rural scenes of great Western art: Giorgione’s Tempest, Le Déjeuner sul l’herbe by Édouard Manet’s or A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, etc.
The final work contains a deep critical dimension: the usual figures of aristocrats in idleness are provocatively replaced by black people who are relaxing on the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, in a totally modern and industrial scenario where even the little boats and sunshades are replaced from motorized boats, water skis and portable stereos, and the summer breeze blows between the notes of Motown and Snoop Dogg. In this way the fracture is created, the critical point that interrupts the pacified vision of the scene and reveals the strong political commitment, it makes an expression of decisive claim beyond the surface representation.