Saturday, August 24, 2013

In the Tower: Kerry James Marshall

Where: National Gallery of Art, East Building

When: through December 8, 2013

This is the last Tower exhibit I'll see for a long time, and, much as I dislike Tower shows generally, this one was worth the climb!

Kerry James Marshall is a contemporary artist whose work in this show focuses on the "middle passage," the portion of the slave trade that involved bringing Africans to America.  So many people torn from their families and forced to live in terrible conditions, and so many others who died along the way.  Truly, a horrible period in our nation's history and in the histories of the other countries that were involved.

Two of the works highlight the role that slaves played in life at Mount Vernon and Monticello; I was reminded of the Jefferson show at the American History museum.  I still am astounded that someone who could write so eloquently about human liberty could enslave so many humans himself.

All of the work is allegorical; you can look at the paintings for quite some time and still not pick out every symbol in them.  Water and journeys are often featured, along with a red cross (a symbol from African culture).  This is a show that I would love to see with a docent, so that I could pick up on more of the meaning of the pieces.

In the second room, there are numerous studies for the pieces you see in the first room, which is interesting.  In some cases, the paintings started out quite differently, and he eliminated or added several different elements before deciding on a final form.

Verdict: You'll get more than a cardio workout going to this Tower show - well worth a trip.

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