June 1998: Painter Kerry James Marshall’s installation Mementos will be on view in the Blum Gallery and Lobby Gallery at the Brooklyn Museum of Art September 11 through November 29, 1998. The exhibition marks the largest presentation of Marshall’s work in New York to date.
Components of Mementos include video images projected within a structure, sculptural objects and paintings, photographs, and prints. In the Blum Gallery, the video installation Laid to Rest will consist of black-and-white historic footage of civil rights demonstrations projected inside a mausoleum-like structure and surrounded by photographs and artificial funeral-parlor floral arrangements. Five freestanding, four-foot-high wooden stamps carved with prominent maxims by civil rights activists and notable leaders of the 1960s will stand in various positions on the gallery floor. The artist will generate prints by inking the stamps with 40 x 60-inch inkpads and pressing them on paper. The video installation and some sculptural objects will be on view for the first time.
The installation includes three large unstretched banner-like paintings referred to by the artist as the Souvenir Series. The paintings evoke Marshall’s regard for the history of painting and nod to baroque religious imagery in an angelic pantheon of significant figures in the African-American struggle for equality.
Marshall’s paintings are saturated with intricate and symbolically complex commentaries on the lives of the black community of the present and the recent past. Mementos was conceived as a requiem for events marking social and civil rights efforts in 1960s America in contrast to where Americans are almost forty years later.
Mr. Marshall is a MacArthur Fellowship recipient who currently lives in Chicago. His work has been included in the Whitney Biennial and Documenta. He was production designer on a feature film by Julie Dash, Daughters of the Dust, and recently presented Doppler Incident as part of the Artist in Action series staged by Brooklyn Academy of Music and performed at the Kitchen.
As an African-American born in Birmingham, Alabama, in the mid-1950s, Marshall brings to his work memories of the civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham and such tragic developments as the deaths of four young girls in the bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the incarceration of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., which led to the Reverend’s heralded Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Later, the Marshall family’s move to a south-central Los Angeles housing project found them in the center of the 1965 Watts riots, and four years later, Marshall witnessed the aftermath of the Los Angeles Police Department’s shootout with members of the Black Panther Party. These early and consistent encounters with social and political turmoil no doubt informed his course as an artist, and it was in Los Angeles that he enrolled in and graduated from the Otis Art Institute.
In the Lobby Gallery, the installation is supplemented by the Scout Series. This group of paintings is based on Marshall’s belief that African-Americans are never truly considered American by either society in general or themselves. He asks us to examine stereotypes or, better yet, discard them entirely.
Charlotta Kotik, Curator of Contemporary Art, is organizing the Brooklyn Museum of Art venue of this exhibition, which originated at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago.
An exhibition catalogue will be designed by Kerry James Marshall in collaboration with Hamza Walker, Director of Education at The Renaissance Society, and Huston A. Baker, Jr., will write the lead essay on the artist.
The exhibition is supported by the FUNd at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, created by a gift from the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1995 - 2003. 07-12/1998, 161-163.