Black dominates the compelling, eye-testing exhibition “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” the largest, most comprehensive retrospective to date of the Chicago-based artist at The Met Breuer. A matte, light-absorbing, sometimes blinding black turns the paintings’ faces and figures into silhouettes and sometimes devours them, as it spreads across backgrounds, punctuates zones of chromatic color, threads through them, or sets up syncopated rhythms across the picture.1 The history of art is full of eloquent black. Name the color and we think of the elegant clothing of Philip IV in Diego Velázquez’s images of the Spanish monarch, Ad Reinhardt’s all-but-unseeable canvases, Frank...


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