Bringing the Movement Home: Kerry James Marshall’s Souvenir & Its Immanent Critique
Kerry James Marshall’s Souvenir (1997-98) brings dilemmas surrounding the civil rights movement’s legacy home. Drawing on the interior spaces of his elder Chicago relatives, Marshall elaborated on their household shrines to the movement. The resulting Souvenir paintings show ’60s style rooms graced by angelic apparitions of the civil rights movement’s cultural and political martyrs, all tended to by the artist’s wife, one of the movement’s many heirs and custodians. As a repository of inherited forms for commemorating the movement, Marshall’s Souvenir underscores his artistic attempt to sustain the civil rights movement’s momentum by critiquing its contemporary memorialization. Attuned to the liabilities of caring for and curating the civil rights movement’s icons, Souvenir engages local and national controversies around the movement’s unfinished business. More precisely, I argue that Marshall’s paintings address the perils of resuming this business as an ascending national logic of neoliberalism threatened to foreclose the ongoing relevance of the movement’s grassroots activism. My paper identifies convergences between Souvenir’s 1998 debut at Chicago’s Renaissance Society and debates about enduring racial disparities that played out in the Chicago press upon the thirtieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination that spring. In facilitating such comparisons between glorified references to ’60s black freedom struggle and bleak manifestations of structural racism’s persistence, Souvenir counters the neoliberal tendency to obfuscate the unjust power structures that civil rights movement activists sought to dismantle. By unpacking Marshall’s allusions to the communal labor, intergenerational exchanges, and institution-building invested in the movement’s icons, I demonstrate how his depictions of intimate family quarters highlight the long-term, collective infrastructures required to support radical black activism of the past and present.
Sam Francis: Painting for the Jet Age
Early in his career, from 1957 to 1959, Sam Francis took two trips around the globe. These episodes of international travel coincided with a distinct shift in his paintings, from the drippy constellations of biomorphic forms produced in his 1950s Paris years to the so-called travel paintings. Often read as cartographic references to landmasses viewed aerially, especially since Francis was a pilot himself, the travel paintings feature towering, brightly-hued, fragmented arrays against a white ground. This essay posits the travel paintings as results of, and ruminations on, the perceptual effects of air travel and the philosophical discourses on perception that constituted Francis's intellectual formation up until 1957.
Respondent: Phoebe Wolfskill, Indiana University
The American Art and Visual Culture Seminar is part of Art Design Chicago, an exploration of Chicago’s art and design legacy, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art with presenting partner The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.