By Jacqueline Trescott
The National Gallery of Art has added two extremely different contemporary artists — Kerry James Marshall and Anne Truitt — to its permanent collection.
The gallery announced that “Great America,” a 1994 work by Marshall, and “Knight’s Heritage,” a 1963 sculpture by Truitt, were purchased by the gallery’s Collectors Committee.
Marshall, an African American born in Birmingham, Ala, takes a point of history, adds dark, almost silhouette forms and forces the viewer to decide whether he is poking fun or respecting his subject.
In “Great America,” the gallery’s acquisition, Marshall depicts the Middle Passage, the horrific period of slavery transport from Africa across the Atlantic as an amusement park ride. The dark figures are floating over blue water headed to a tunnel, only to be greeted by alarmed ghosts.
The title is a play on some amusement park names.
Truitt, who was born in Baltimore and lived in the region for most of her life, was one of the emerging female sculptors of the 1960s.
In “Knight’s Heritage,” the gallery’s addition, she marked off wide bands of reddish brown, golden yellow and black with real grooves. It stands at attention like a small wall. And the interpretation of this work has varied from a tribute to the American writer and illustrator Howard Pyle or the Camelot legends tied to the John F. Kennedy administration.
“They are very different works and they fit very differently,” said Harry Cooper, the gallery’s curator of modern contemporary art.
“Marshall fills a big gap. We need more work by more young, midcareer living artists and certainly African American artists who deal with African American subjects. Hopefully this will lead to more.”
The Truitt work joins two sculptures and one drawing of hers at the museum.
“The three pieces we have are from the 1970s but she had her breakthrough in the early 1960s,” Cooper said. Truitt died in 2004. “For historic reasons it is important to have one of those works. She was defining herself against the minimalist movement. You see an artist, a woman artist, which is interesting, a Washingtonian, which is interesting, finding her way against this tough group of minimalism artists.”
Both works are scheduled to go on view in the East Building May 1.