Great America? Not.
Now that this Kerry James Marshall’s show “In the Tower" 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 a provocative a gesture it is.
“In the Tower” is built around Marshall’s 1994 painting Great America, a 9 ½-foot long canvas the museum bought in 2011.
The scene, in which four dark figures burst out of a haunted Tunnel of Love ride, seems like a jovial cartoon, at first. Look closer, and you will sense the fear, expectation, insecurity, and foreboding in this crowded boat ride, and you will begin to understand the real subject of the picture.
Great America is nothing less than an arch, bitter lament on how the journey of the kidnapped Africans remains the psychological backdrop for the powerlessness and anxiety experienced by the black population today.
“You have to put together what that means by adding up the elements,” the artist says. The banner announcing the painting’s title comes from an amusement park, but it’s not an homage. “Black people always have to wonder,” says Marshall, “When did America become great for black folks?”
Read more at artnews.com
Kerry James Marshall, Great America, 1994, acrylic and collage on canvas.
COURTESY NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON. GIFT OF THE COLLECTORS COMMITTEE.