First lady Michelle Obama visited the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago this past Friday to tour “Kelly James Marshall: Mastry,” the exhibition of works about African American life by the acclaimed Chicago-based artist. Her visit coincided with the official announcement that the Obama Presidential Center would be located in Chicago’s Jackson Park.
Mrs. Obama was accompanied on a tour of the exhibition by MCA Pritzker Director Madeleine Grynsztejn, as well as the artist and his wife, actress Cheryl Lynn Bruce. The show runs through Sept. 25 at the MCA, and then moves on to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
In a prepared statement Grynsztejn said: “Kerry James Marshall is making a lasting contribution to history with works that are aesthetically powerful, but also relevant to issues facing our society today – from racial injustice to the search for equality. At the same time, his paintings are beautiful, humanistic, and necessary. Mrs. Obama’s visit underscores the importance of this great artist, who is at once a hero of our city and also a pillar of the community.”
An inspired and imaginative chronicler of the African American experience for threes decades, Marshall is best known for his large-scale interiors, landscapes, and portraits featuring powerful black figures. He explores narratives of African-American history from slave ships to contemporary culture, and draws on his deep knowledge of art history, from the Renaissance to 20th-century abstraction, as well as on other sources such as the comic book and the muralist tradition.
Marshall’s powerful paintings confront the position of African Americans throughout American history, with direct and intimate scenes of black middle-class life, painted in vibrant color with detailed patterning.