Kerry James Marshall Is Our Era’s Greatest Painter

THE DAILY PIC: Marshall's Met Breuer paintings are stunning – but a comic-book page gets to the heart of his art.

THE DAILY PIC (#1686): After seeing the retrospective called “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” at the Metropolitan Museum’s new Breuer building, I’m more convinced than ever that Marshall is the greatest painter to come to light in the last several decades – quite probably the only one who will end up mattering in the long run. There’s a brilliant complexity to his paintings that does justice to the complexity of the racial issues every one of them is about. He even overcomes – almost – painting’s fatal links to our society’s culture of privilege, luxury and cliché.

That “almost” is what made me choose a non-painting by Marshall to celebrate his achievement. Eight years ago, in what still counts as a high point in my art critical career, I got the Washington Post to give up a full two-page spread to Marshall, to do with as he pleased. He pleased to let us have a comic-book page about an alternative future where the Washington Monument gets an addition dedicated to commemorating Nat Turner’s bloody, ill-fated slave rebellion. (My Pic is a detail; click here to see and read the entire spread.)

It seemed especially important to give Marshall’s piece a second outing right now, at a moment when white supremacists are thrilled at the election of someone they count as a hero, and at the appointment of an ally to run the West Wing. A monument to Turner may yet be called for on the Mall, if the one to Martin Luther King, Jr., stops representing what this nation stands for.

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