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Art Index: Kerry James Marshall

In Western Catholicism, darkness was evil. In the colonial and imperial context, dark skin was always weak, powerless, subjugated. If you see these images all the time, they become commonplace, and they no longer become a spectacular or sensational thing.”

- Kerry James Marshall

Untitled, 2009 © James Marshall


Kerry James Marshall (born October 17, 1955) is an American artist and professor, known for his paintings of Black figures.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was raised in Birmingham and then later in Los Angeles, California.

He is the son of a postal worker and a homemaker. His father's hobby was buying broken watches that he'd pick up in pawn shops for a song, figure out how to fix them with the help of books he'd find used, and resell them. Marshall was able to learn to deconstruct items that we saw as rarefied and complex to make it his own.

Having lived in Los Angeles in proximity of the Black Panthers’ headquarters he was left with a feeling of social responsibility that directly influenced his artwork.

In high school Marshall began drawing figures under the mentorship of social realist painter Charles White, who continued mentoring the young artist well into his college career.

Marshall stated that during the years of his training, White grew to become as much of a friend as a mentor and kept in touch with his family, even after his death.

Marshall studied at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and was a MacArthur Fellow in 1997.

In 1997 he was represented at the documenta X, in 2003 at the Biennale di Venezia and in 2007 at the documenta 12 in Kassel.

Could This Be Love, 1997 © James Marshall

His artworks are specifically identity-based.

He has always strived to make black aesthetic visible by bringing it back into the fold of the grand narrative of art. Using his own words, he uses blackness to amplify the difference as an oppositional force, both aesthetically and philosophically. One such “black” issue, Marshall addresses, is that of beauty. He has stated that since most figures in advertising were and still are white, he wanted to produce images of black bodies to "offset the impression that beauty is synonymous with whiteness" and "Black is beautiful".

His focus has always been on the creation of new works of art that were not a part of the western art-historical tradition.

By challenging the marginalization of African-Americans through his formally rigorous paintings, whose protagonists are always, in her words, "unequivocally and emphatically black"m Marshall demonstrates his in-depth knowledge of art history and black popular culture.

In Black Star (2011), a naked woman breaks through a Frank Stella-style canvas, commanding viewers' attention to how she has been (and how she should be) seen and portrayed.

The Souvenir series pays homage to the civil rights movement with works featuring the bold slogans of the era (Black Power) and middle-class salons, where ordinary African-American citizens become angels of an internal order, populated by Martin's ghosts Luther king, John F. Kennedy and other 60s heroes.

Kerry James Marshall's art is an investigation into the invisibility of Blacks in America and the negative connotations associated with black.

A detail of Kerry James Marshall's "Knowledge and Wonder," painted for the Legler Branch public library. (Christie's Images Ltd.)

According to the

“Such images represent a conscious effort on Mr. Marshall’s part to rescue the image of black life from a default air of pessimism. But he does not avoid bitter realities. A painting called “The Lost Boys”, done the same year as “De Style”, is a stabbing memorial to the violent deaths of black children. Nine immense pictures installed together in a wide-open gallery on the fourth floor tell a tale of a utopia failed — and worse, betrayed. Five of these paintings, collectively called “The Garden Project”, date from 1994-95 and are reunited here for the first time in two decades. Mr. Marshall has said that one of his motivating ambitions as an artist was to paint black life “in the grand style,” and here he did, in a fusion of autobiography and politics.”

In 2014 he was awarded the Wolfgang Hahn Prize of the Society for Modern Art at the Museum Ludwig, and in the same year he was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2017, Time (magazine) named him one of the 100 most influential personalities. In the British art magazine “Art Review” he is (after gallery owner David Zwirner) number 2 in the “Power 100” ranking list with the current one hundred most influential personalities in the international art world.

Marshall's first major solo exhibition, which traveled throughout the country, was organized at the Renaissance Society of the University of Chicago in 1998. His work has been exhibited in many American and international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale (2003) and the Documenta (1997 and 2007).

In 2013, Marshall had a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Art titled In the Tower: Kerry James Marshall. In April 2016, Marshall's retrospective debuted at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago as the largest retrospective to date of Marshall's art, which spanned the artist's 35-year career and included nearly 80 original pieces.

In October 2016, the retrospective traveled to the Met Breuer in New York City.

In 2018, Marshall had the solo exhibition, Kerry James Marshall: Works on Paper at Cleveland Museum of Art.

Marshall's work is included in many public museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Harvard Art Museums, Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art,amongst others.

Currently, Marshall lives and works in Chicago.


According to Marshall’s turnover in 2020 is $3,973,593.

The oldest auction result ever registered on the website for an artwork by this artist is a painting sold in 2006, at Christie's , and the most recent auction result is a tapestry sold in 2021.'s price levels for this artist are based on 99 auction results. Especially: print-multiple, painting, drawing-watercolor, sculpture-volume, photography, tapestry.

Distribution by price (by Artprice)

There are no artworks by the artist currently listed in upcoming public auctions


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