I do not make art. But I do consume it. And if I am happy for anything — besides meeting old friends in New York over the holidays — it’s that I learned from a man by the name of Kerry James Marshall. Until I saw his show at the Met, I didn’t know anything about him. Nothing, nada. I had gone to Met with my wife to see Paul Klee, whom I adore because of his crystal-clear ideas and presentation. Every time I see Klee, his art makes me happy. With his art, I can travel to places I’ve never been. Had I left the gallery having seen Klee’s art only, I would have been happy enough. I was sazio di arte, as Italians would say — “full of art.”
And yet we stopped on the floor below and became immersed in a world that I still do not know well, but where I felt immediately at home. It was a two-floor retrospective exhibition titled “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry.” “Mastry” stands for “maestro” — the point in a person’s artistic life when he learns everything, and he gains the freedom to do — to paint — whatever he wants. There are no more bonds, Marshall says in one of the interviews that introduces the exhibition. I was amazed. I was being allowed to walk through the world that does not necessarily belong to me. I was a guest.
As I walked through the exhibit, I thought of Between the World and Me, in which Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about the brutal truth of his life as an African American. Kerry James Marshall is a better narrator than Coates. In his world, there is no more suffering or fear.
During the show, a black man was leading and an elderly white man from canvas to canvas, explaining and laughing loudly. Who is this man who does not respect the art? I thought to myself. Well, it was Marshall himself, as I learned later on when I Googled more of his art, and that full, happy face from the gallery appeared on my computer screen.