This lecture considers a single object: a 2015 portrait of a black policeman by Kerry James Marshall (American, b. 1955). Professor English examines Untitled (Policeman) as both a manifestation of and a response to the demand that certain art be ‘relevant,’ reflecting or analyzing ‘real’ conditions — a demand that increases precipitously in ‘crisis’ moments such as today's. If that demand also threatens the peculiar realness of art — for instance, its ability to question our most prestigious forms and significations by instituting new ones — what might it mean for a work of art to answer the demand successfully? If visual art is a tool for addressing the widely registered sense of backsliding in contemporary US political culture, how is that tool to be wielded?
Darby English is the Carl Darling Buck Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago. His publications include 1971: A Year in the Life of Color (University of Chicago Press, 2016), and How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness (MIT Press, 2007). He is co-editor of Art History and Emergency (Yale University Press, 2016) and Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress (MIT Press, 2002 and Rizzoli, 2007). English’s short-form writing has appeared in Art Bulletin, Artforum, caa.reviews, The Guardian, The International Review of African-American Art and other venues.
Free and open to the public. Reception to follow.