Kerry James Marshall: Through a Lens, Darkly

THE DAILY PIC: The black artist lets us look at black people looking.


Kerry James Marshall is presenting this new painting, called Beach Towel, in the solo show Look See at David Zwirner’s London branch. Like most of the other pictures in the exhibition, it is all about black people being looked at, and looking at themselves, and being photographed. Here we’ve got a woman modeling in what I read as her own back yard. In another painting we see a young black couple on a date in a club: Behind his back, the boy is showing the camera an engagement ring he’s about to offer. A third image is of a topless black woman, joyfully revealing herself in a mirror.

Where a lot of Marshall’s earliest work was about the tensions of black poverty, the figures in this show are solidly, proudly middle class. There’s a sense that for some people at least, black really has become beautiful. There’s also a sense that this can’t be believed, even by those people, unless that beauty is constantly staged for the camera.

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