Kerry James Marshall - History of Painting | David Zwirner

Kerry James Marshall is uber-influential these days, with his works selling for seven figure sums - to P Diddy, no less. He’s also an incredible and sensitive portraitist. Sometimes beloved, successful work is great work, as his new exhibition at David Zwirner proves. But the show also has interesting things to say about the nature of that success.

This is an exhibition about the ways in which paintings can be made, and the contexts in which they are received. There are three groups of works: splotchy abstracts, images of huge auction prices from 2007 - from just before the crisis - and, what everyone’s really come to see, a series of amazingly evocative portraits.

Installation view

The last set really leap out for their gorgeously bold use of acrylic paint throughout, but especially on black skin. They’re replete with adorable, satisfying details. Look at the dog walker above - and note that her bright turquoise nail polish matches her shoes. And there’s a real showstopper, a massive diptych called ‘Untitled (Underpainting)’, a scene at an imaginary art museum where the patrons and guides are all black.

“You don’t see images of black people in trauma in my work; you don’t see images of black people who are abject in my work,” he told the Financial Times recently. In the history of art, he points out, “we don’t think of black people and joy”.

With the - surely intentionally bad - abstracts and the auction prices, Marshall contextualises his black bodies with the hard finances and fads of the art world. And he comes out on top!

Other highlights

I saw the goofy Lucy Dodd: Miss Mars, with the works’ materials ranging from tobacco to “dragon’s blood” at Sprüth Magers. I saw mirrors of all kinds at the stylish Michelangelo Pistoletto: Origins & Consequences, at Mazzoleni, where a special shout-out goes to his black mirror.

There were monochrome, Duchamp-referencing Olivier Mosset: Graphic Works at Laure Genillard, and a theme-free group show - Pedro Cabrita Reis Jimmie Durham Cildo Meireles at Sprovieri.

More pretentious was Sublime Hardware at Luxembourg & Dayan, pairing Pino Pascoli’s model tank with a Dan Flavin work with white neon lights. (I’m grouchy because the tank was taped off like it was showing at the Tate, rather than a down-at-heel first floor gallery in a Mayfair back street.)

Things improved with Daniel Silver at Frith Street Gallery, and his gorgeous mannequins and oryx and marble sculptures. Plaster and wood were the primary materials at a small Florian Roithmayr show at Tenderpixel.

Finally, I saw Luke William Thompson’s moving and immersive video work at Turner Prize 2018 at Tate Britain - he’s my tip for the win.

Kerry James Marshall: History of Painting is at David Zwirner (London). 03 October - 10 November 2018