Kerry James Marshall:
Expanding History

How the artist is recoding art’s past in a manner he sees fit.

feature by Emma O’Neill FEB 2019

In the final lot of a Sotheby’s evening sale in October last year, Banksy’s work shredded itself after being sold for USD$1.4 million. After all the media hype that ensued, the work was valued at least 50% more. The moral of the story: the art market always wins.

And it remains a barometer of cultural change. The 2018 season saw the first piece of AI-generated art, a portrait, sold at auction, the use of blockchain for payment, and – more importantly – a new high watermark for a living African-American artist, Kerry James Marshall. The artist quadrupled his own personal record with the May 2018 Sotheby’s sale of Past Times (1997), for USD$21.1 million to record executive and entrepreneur Sean Combs (best known as P Diddy or Puff Daddy). This result demonstrated that the historical value and price point of African-American artists might now be levelling with their white peers. Marshall was quick to comment, “This is probably the first instance in the history of the art world where a Black person took part in a capital competition and won,” and as New York art dealer and advisor Todd Levine noted, it “signalled an intensification of activity among African-American collectors.”

No longer just a domain for Abstract Expressionists, the auction world is clearly playing catch-up with broader cultural conversations. The record sale is testament to the importance and centrality of Kerry James Marshall, confirming the success of his endeavour to insert Blackness into the narrative of contemporary art. “The overarching principle is still to move the Black figure from the periphery to.. Subscribe to read this article in full


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