There’s zero like the disturb of finding a “new” artist. The brain buzzes, the eyes dilate — even when you comprehend you’re decades late to the party. That’s how it felt for this author to come face-to-canvas with the fresh works of Chicago-based painter Kerry James Marshall, who’s spent 35 years getting the black knowledge onto canvases and museum walls.
So, hey, Mike Pence, you ought to check out “Mastry,” at the Met Breuer. It includes scarcely 80 paintings opposite two floors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art offshoot.
Marshall’s striking, absolute and politically charged imagery includes portraits and landscapes, abstractions and comics. Bold tone is a near-constant. Figures are spark black. Other tones are as heated and magnetic. Identity marks one constrained theme. The picture of a black lady with brush and easel set before a paint-by-number picture of herself is an expressive criticism on self-creation. Showcase pieces are oversized slices of life — waterside picnics, beauty parlors, dances — sensitive by Marshall’s own girl in an L.A. housing project. These absolute works are both celebratory and unsettling. Recurring bluebirds supplement jolts of whimsy, as good as the guarantee of complacency that flies out of reach.
The exhibit, using by Jan. 29, is the largest museum retrospective to date of the 61-year-old artist. Why not consider big? This artist will make you do that.