Tyler Green
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Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

An astonishing ‘first’ at the National Gallery

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On Friday the National Gallery of Art will open “In the Tower: Kerry James Marshall,” an exhibition more-or-less about Marshall’s Great America (1994), which the NGA acquired in 2010.  The show will include eight paintings (including 1994’s Bang, above) and numerous works on paper related to Great America and related works. Judging from the checklist, curator James Meyer’s show is likely to be a nice, bite-sized introduction to Marshall’s early-1990s work.

But “Kerry James Marshall” is newsworthy for another reason, a reason wholly unrelated to the work on view: This is the first time since the NGA opened in 1941 that it has organized an exhibition of a living African-American artist.

Previously the National Gallery organized an exhibition of a late African-American artist (Romare Bearden in 2003) and it hosted an exhibition of an African-American artist organized by another institution (the Museum of Modern Art’s Martin Puryear retrospective in 2008). The Marshall show is just the third exhibition of an African-American artist at the NGA.

Sadly, this shouldn’t be a surprise: Even as historians have substantially opened up the art historical canon in recent decades, director Rusty Powell’s National Gallery has been stuck in a previous era. For years the NGA’s West Building galleries of American art have been so dominated by paintings by white men that the hanging of a third artwork (out of about 170) by a non-white-male painter last year was news. As recently as 2011 the NGA hung zero works by non-male artists in its American galleries.

The NGA’s exhibition program has also long been dominated by white males: The museum has presented either zero exhibitions or one exhibition of a female artist in the last 11 years. (The NGA organized “Judith Leyster: 1609-1660,” in its Dutch cabinet galleries in 2009. The Arthur Wheelock-and-Frima Fox Hofrichter-curated exhibition featured 10 Leysters (out of fewer than 40 known to exist) alongside 15 paintings by Leyster’s male contemporaries, plus assorted ephemera such as musical instruments.)

The National Gallery received  well over $100 million in taxpayer funds in FY 2013.

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Comments

  1. suggest you do some columns on NGA.

    seems to be in a miasma- does not seem to be able to expand so many modern works (Myerhof donation resides in maryland) can’t be shown, the shows remain good but not great, even one of their biggest local trustees is building his own museum. Donations or purchases don’t seem to be overwhelming. as you point out the exhibitions and hanging seem to be very old fashioned and past oriented.

    is it the director, the quaint board of trustees? there are real problems — if you had the $$ to expand– where, how would you split the collection? maybe the gallery should be like the NGA in London- stop about 1900 & spawn another museum for post 1900. — a lot to write about

  2. [...] Tyler Green: Why is the National Gallery of Art just getting around to mounting an exhibit for the work of a living African American artist (Kerry James Marshall)? [ArtInfo] [...]

  3. For as long as you’ve been complaining about no women artists in the West Wing’s American galleries, there’s been a lovely still life by Adelheid Dietrich hanging there. Just saying.

  4. [...] Tyler Green: Why is the National Gallery of Art just getting around to mounting an exhibit for the work of a living African American artist (Kerry James Marshall)? [ArtInfo] [...]

  5. by Dawoud Bey

    Kerry James Marshall is indeed NOT the first living African American artist to have a solo exhibition mounted at the National Gallery of Art. That “distinction” goes to the sculptor Martin Puryear, who had a retrospective exhibition there from June 22 – September 28, 2008. See the link below for further information:

    http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2008/puryear/

  6. by Tyler Green

    Please note that I wrote, “This is the first time since the NGA opened in 1941 that it has organized an exhibition of a living African-American artist.” The Puryear show was organized by John Elderfield for the Museum of Modern Art.

  7. In spite of every other thing I like the painting a lot, especially the “Happy 4th July BANG” and “We are One” quotes in it. The feelings can truly be seen. Great share.

  8. [...] from putting 34 men plus Kim Gordon in its current London group show. Or solve the incredible whiteness of most of America’s art [...]

  9. [...] from putting 34 men plus Kim Gordon in its current London group show. Or solve the incredible whiteness of most of America’s art [...]

  10. [...] from putting 34 men plus Kim Gordon in its current London group show. Or solve the incredible whiteness of most of America’s art [...]

  11. [...] to think critically about it). But we are certainly still at a point when work by  white  men  dominates both the market  and major museums.* Which means that, while writers looking for critical and [...]

  12. [...] December 8 Why: Now that this show is in its last week, the furor has subsided about its being the first solo exhibition the National Gallery has ever organized for a living African American artist. So now we can see how [...]

  13. [...] December 8 Why: Now that this show is in its last week, the furor has subsided about its being the first solo exhibition the National Gallery has ever organized for a living African American artist. So now we can see how [...]

  14. [...] from putting 34 men plus Kim Gordon in its current London group show. Or solve the incredible whiteness of most of America’s art [...]

  15. [...] The following is excerpted from: “An astonishing ‘first’ at the National Gallery.” http://blogs.artinfo.com. Wednesday, June 26th, 2013. click here for full article  [...]

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