Kerry James Marshall - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 15, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Andover, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Kerry Marshall: New Paintings, March 29 - May 19, 1997 (titled as Elegy For What We Had)
    Chicago, The Renaissance Society, University of Chicago; New York, Brooklyn Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Art; Boston, Institute of Contemporary Art; Los Angeles, Santa Monica Museum of Art; Boise Art Museum, Kerry James Marshall: Mementos, May 6, 1998 – July 30, 2000, pp. 33, 60

  • Literature

    Charles Gaines, Greg Tate and Laurence Rassel, Kerry James Marshall, London, 2017, p. 158 (illustrated, p. 63)

  • Catalogue Essay

    A striking example of Kerry James Marshall’s distinct approach to history painting, We Mourn Our Loss #1 is an iconic painting from the artist’s body of work exploring the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. Painted in 1997, this work was a hallmark of the artist's career-defining solo exhibition Kerry James Marshall: Mementos that opened at the Renaissance Society, Chicago, and travelled to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, the Santa Monica Museum and the Boise Art Museum between 1998 and 2000. Exemplary of the recurring theme of commemoration in Marshall’s oeuvre, this tribute to "The Holy Trinity of the Civil Rights Movement”, with We Mourn Our Loss #1, Marshall has created a trompe-l'oeil painting of the very gold-tasseled banners honoring heroes of the civil rights movement such as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, President John F. Kennedy, and Senator Robert Kennedy. The composition has been excised from the domestic scenes of Souvenir I, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and Souvenir II, Addison Gallery of American Art.

    Following on the heels of Marshall’s inclusion in Documenta 10 in Kassel and the Whitney Biennial both in 1997, the 1998 Mementos exhibition represented the most comprehensive survey of Marshall's work and firmly announced his self-identification as a history painter. Marshall conceived this exhibition as a requiem to the 1960s, yet rather than construct overly historical or political accounts, he characteristically delved into the private and domestic dimensions of this legacy, as evidenced in the two interrelated series We Mourn Our Loss and Souvenir. The first of five We Mourn Our Loss paintings, the present work sets the visual foundation that Marshall would explore in ensuing compositions. Portraits of King and the two Kennedy brother float across the black expanse presented in stylized ovals not unlike religious mandorla. Embellished with gold glitter tassels and emblazoned with the words “We mourn our loss”, the work formally mimics the kind of objects sold in the months following their respective assassinations, which, in combination with the widely held belief that they had died serving the disenfranchised, fueled their status as martyrs to the cause.

    Commemorative banners were a familiar presence in many African American households in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a fact Marshall vividly illustrates when depicting them within his Souvenir paintings within living room settings next to elaborate marble tables and flower vases. These paintings exemplify Marshall’s mash-up of styles, genres and tropes from broader visual culture that subvert distinctions between "low" and “high” art. We Mourn Our Loss #1 is one of the first instances where Marshall uses glitter, as evidenced both in the tassels and the edges of the panel. In doing so, Marshall heightens the devotional aspect and commercial sentimentality of these objects, as well as infusing the paintings with concrete allusions to the "decorating-the-decoration aesthetic…observed in African-American homes over sixty years ago” (Richard Powell, “Lamentations, from the ‘Hood”, Kerry James Marshall: Mementos, exh. cat., Renaissance Society of Chicago, Chicago, 1998, p. 32). While emphasizing the objecthood of the work, he also invites the viewer to revel in its undeniable visual pleasure.

    While derived from this specific historical context, the We Mourn Our Loss series shows how Marshall decontextualizes and transforms these banners to explore the multivalent nature of commemoration. As Marshall explained, "In the We Mourn Our Loss paintings I left a blank oval in which viewers can write something that inspires a sense of loss in them. The commemorative banners suggest how the process can be opened up, so that other people can participate in it” (Kerry James Marshall, quoted in “How Kerry James Marshall kept MLK's memory alive”, Phaidon, online). We Mourn Our Loss #1 introduces this conceptual underpinning in the form of a silhouetted hand that ominously hovers over the white oval, its implied action resulting in variably politically and personally charged inscriptions such as “S.N.C.C. O.A.U. Panthers” and “Daddy” in ensuing compositions. The seemingly straightforward phrase “we mourn our loss” suddenly raises the question of whose loss we mourn, who “we" even refers to. There are no easy answers. As Susanne Ghez pointedly asked, “Is it a legacy in which whatever gains towards racial equality…are threatened with becoming tokens? Or is it a legacy in which we have failed to live up to certain aspirations as African-Americans continue to share a disproportionate share of the nation’s socio-economic hardship?” (Susanne Ghez, Kerry James Marshall: Mementos, exh. cat., Renaissance Society of Chicago, Chicago, 1998, p. 5).

    It is perhaps only apt that Marshall chose to complete the body of work initiated with the Mementos exhibition with Memento #5, 2003, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City. A black angel stands at the center of a living room in this painting, symbolically concluding a fraught decade as she draws close a silver curtain that partially obscures portraits of the Kennedy brothers, King as well as Malcolm X — the words “Remember” and "What a Time What a Time” retaining an emphatic presence that echoes into the present moment.

    Marshall’s work forces us to take another look, not simply at the event themselves, but at the act of remembering. “It is almost as if Marshall's strategy…is to employ black cultural nostalgia in tandem with the unavoidable blurring, distorting, and fading of memory, so that what is left are…poignant, evocative histories” (Richard J. Powell, “Lamentations, from the ‘Hood”, in Kerry James Marshall: Mementos, exh. cat., Renaissance Society of Chicago, Chicago, 1998, p. 36). Confronting us with the vicissitudes of memory and history, We Mourn Our Loss #1 is a powerful work that is as relevant today as it will, undoubtedly, be tomorrow.

Property from a Prominent Midwest Collection


We Mourn Our Loss #1

signed, inscribed and dated "#1 Kerry James Marshall '97" on the reverse
acrylic, glitter and graphite on Masonite
48 x 36 in. (121.9 x 91.4 cm.)
Executed in 1997.

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 15 November 2018