Monday, May 22, 2017

Where to Be Merry: The “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” Exhibition @ MOCA Grand Avenue

The Merriment:
A museum exhibition featuring almost 80 fascinating works of art, created by artist Kerry James Marshall 
during his 35-year career

The Location: Downtown

The Vibes: Insightful, inspiring, sobering, thought-provoking

Good for: Alone, groups (large and small), dates, families

When-To-Go: Daily, except Tuesdays; the Mastry exhibition is currently up and running until July 3

The $$ Factor: $15 general admission; $8 - $10 for students and seniors, respectively; free for MOCA members, children (aged 12 and younger) and jurors

The Names behind the scenes: Artist Kerry James Marshall, MOCA Chief Curator Helen Molesworth, 
Associate Curator Ian Alteveer,  Guest Curator Dieter Roelstraete

The 4-1-1: Admission is also free every Thursday, 5 – 8 p.m.

Parking Situation: Nearby metered parking and parking structures

I’ll Be Back…: Because a couple of hours simply wasn’t enough to see everything!

What's your morning work commute ritual like?

For me, during my 15-minute drive, I hastily scarf down my breakfast, expertly apply make up, methodically scroll through emails...

And of course, I tune into my favorite radio station, NPR, to get a quick fix on the latest news and to find out what’s happening in the world. 

One crisp March morning, I caught an NPR special all about Kerry James Marshall — a black artist who has dedicated his 35-year career to creating more representations of African-Americans within the art world. Born in Birmingham, Alabama and raised in South Central L.A., Marshall uses a wide range of Western art techniques along with a variety of different mediums — from paintings to prints and collages — to bring glimpses into the daily lives, dreams, tragedies and resilience of black people around the nation.

The NPR special had mentioned that after stints in Chicago and New York City, the Kerry James Marshall: Mastry exhibition featuring almost 80 art pieces had now reached L.A., where it will reside at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in DTLA until July 3.

Completely intrigued and curious to see some of these works in person, I visited the exhibit a few weeks later.

And, I was blown away! 

Multiple rooms in MOCA hold all types of artwork you could ever imagine — photographs capturing snapshots of life in the ‘70s; acrylic and oils portraying graceful men and women; even scenes on illuminated light boxes from Marshall’s graphic-novel project Rhythm Mastr (1999 – present; one scene is below), which tells the story of a superhero teenager who fights crime around Chicago with his friends.

Personally, I loved seeing scores of the big, bright murals that almost stretched from ceiling to floor. Through them, Marshall challenges social stereotypes and assumptions through the juxtaposition of images and the tiniest of details in these larger-than-life scenes. For instance, while housing projects can often be seen as dangerous and undesirable places to live, a set of these murals turns this notion on its head. Brilliantly rich colors, glorious sunbeams, palm trees and blue birds holding ribbons with different sayings make housing projects seem inviting and welcoming, such as in Watts 1963 (1995, pictured below), where children gaze back, standing and sitting sit in front of the buildings. 

Marshall’s artwork turns every day, mundane scenarios into significant moments of importance, too. In both De Style (1993) and School of Beauty, School of Culture (2012, pictured below), he vividly captures the spirit of what it's like to visit a barber shop and a beauty salon — two places that have been a cornerstone of African-American culture and tradition, for countless decades. 

His artwork also depicts the potential of dreams and future hopes. In his Vignette series such as in Untitled Vignette (2012, pictured below), modeling after 18th-century French rococo illustrations, he tenderly captures the budding romance between young adults, within the backdrop of urban landscapes and typical symbols of love, like pink and red hearts, flowers and birds.

But, all is not sunshine and roses; Marshall intentionally makes political statements and social commentary. The colors of the Pan-African flag — red, black and green — are woven throughout many of his pieces. The Lost Boys (1993, pictured below) is a sobering homage to the untimely loss of so many children’s lives to gun violence.

My favorite, hands down, is Untitled (Club Couple) (2014), which shows a young couple in love excitedly beaming at us. The lightheartedness, the thrill, the excitement — it’s all there — along with the fact that we’re in on a secret with the gentleman, a pleasant surprise that’s going to change both of their lives forever. 

I could go on and on about all the reasons why I loved the Mastry exhibition, but I’ll simply end by saying that what captivated me the most about Marshall's works is the subtle yet undeniable beauty that radiates from the characters within his art. Silent, ebony faces stare back at us — sometimes defiantly, sometimes coyly, sometimes smiling — but always with grace and strength, and always with this intense demand to be seen. Marshall has done such an amazing job of bringing a sense of importance to the multi-faceted black American experience, turning it into meaningful and long-lasting, beautiful art. 

So, the next time you're in the mood to wander through a museum to take in great art for a few hours one day, I highly recommend checking out this exhibition. Don't wait too long, though, as it's only here until early July.

See you there soon!

For more information: 


  1. Wow!!!

    This was an amazing write up of this exhibition! I really enjoyed how detailed you were with his history and why Kerry James Marshell matters! Thank you so much!


  2. What a beautiful exhibit. It's been way to long since I've been to an art exhibit. You've inspired me...