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Curating Kerry James Marshall, Part 2

by Dieter Roelstraete

The entrance to the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid

All images courtesy of the author


Following his curatorial research trips to Vienna, Antwerp, and Copenhagen, Dieter Roelstraete takes us on the second leg of his curatorial journey researching and preparing for Kerry James Marshall, with stops in Barcelona, Madrid, and London.

A banner outside the Fundacio Antoni Tapies in Barcelona announces the Kerry James Marshall show within—this is the closing chapter of the European tour of Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff. Named after a leading Catalan painter-sculptor, the foundation is one of Spain's most important contemporary art spaces. And its outgoing director, Laurence Rassel, is in many ways the person who got the ball rolling behind this particular exhibition project—Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff really started out with a hand-written letter to the artist posted by Rassel back in the spring of 2007

This glorious view of the Fundacio's main space highlights Club Scene, a major new painting by Marshall that was finished just in time for the European exhibition tour. In front of it lies the giant-sized stamps that were at the heart of Mementos, Kerry's exhibition held at the Renaissance Society in Chicago back in 1996—they now reside in a prominent private collection in Vancouver, Canada

Opposite Club Scene, we encountered Garden Party, a painting I first saw unfinished in Kerry's studio during my maiden voyage to Chicago in 2011. Indeed, it holds the distinction of having been worked on longer than any other painting in the artist's illustrious corpus. Frequent visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago, like ourselves, cannot help but see in it an artist's homage to that museum's iconic pointillist masterpiece, George Seurat's La Grande Jatte

Occupying a third wall in the Fundacio's main space, we found The Art of Hanging Pictures in yet another constellation. At the time of writing, it had been decided that this installation, which was included in Kerry's show at the MCA in 2003, will not be on view in the MCA chapter of the 2016–17 survey show; it will be installed, however, in the exhibition's iterations at both the Met in New York and LA MoCA

Unable to attend the opening of the Barcelona chapter of Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff, we chose the second-best date to travel to Spain—a day in early October 2014 when the Fundacio hosted a conversation between the artist and Paul Gilroy, the London-based doyen of postcolonial studies and author, most notably of The Black Atlantic and the aptly titled There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack. Clearly, Kerry's work continues to inspire today's most perceptive cultural critics

The Spanish leg of Kerry's exhibition tour spanned two cities: Barcelona and Madrid—and in the latter, there was no better place to see Kerry's work up close than in the stunning Palacio Velazquez, a satellite space of the capital's Reina Sofia museum, which some would argue is the best contemporary art museum in the world—and who are we to disagree? Marshall and Velazquez—a long-overdue rendezvous

Here are three different views, highlighting the spectacular architecture of the Palacio Velazquez, of two paintings that together make up a triptych first seen on this tour in Vienna: an impressive welcome to this crystal palace in a sun-soaked city park

Chicago meets Madrid in more ways than one: this painting on view in Madrid, representing Kerry's take on the mythical tale of the wishing well, belongs to Chicago-based artist Nick Cave. I remember first seeing it on the wall of Nick's home in Chicago when I went to visit him with an invitation in hand to another exhibition at the MCA. Curating—it moves in mysterious ways

A week after traveling to Barcelona and Madrid, we had the pleasure of attending the opening of Kerry's debut at David Zwirner's newly opened London gallery space in Mayfair. The exhibition was simply titled Look See—a reference to the artist's enduring interest in the politics of looking and seeing, of being seen and looked at (or, more poignantly in the case of the black figure in western art: of not being seen, of being overlooked). This painting, Beauty Queen, was one of the show's standout pieces and half an hour after taking this photograph, a Zwirner gallery attendant managed to snap a portrait of none other than Beyonce posing in front of her painted counterpart—a meeting of queens