Collectors in town for Frieze’s West Coast debut aren’t the only ones in Los Angeles making big acquisitions this week. The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has acquired Kerry James Marshall’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self (1980), one of the landmark works in the artist’s development of his figural style.
The small painting, executed when Marshall was 25 years old, signaled a shift from more abstract collage work to the art historically inflected paintings depicting black figures for which he’s best known. The work will go on view Saturday at LACMA in the new exhibition “Life Model: Charles White and His Students;” Marshall studied with White at the Otis College of Art and Design (then the Otis Art Institute) in the late 1970s.
“That’s a hard painting, but if I see it next to Kerry’s work [...] this little teeny painting impacts his sensibilities and his trajectory,” Ian White, Charles White’s son and the co-curator of LACMA’s show, told the Times. “I don’t think Kerry’s intent was to speak about blackface. It’s almost another investigation again of the color black. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.”
Collector Steven Lebowitz bought the painting from Culver City’s Koplin gallery in 1984 for $850 and hung it in a bar in his home. But after some of his guests deemed the painting offensive, he moved it to a bathroom, and it remained there for over 25 years. Despite its modest beginnings, it was featured prominently in the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s landmark 2016 retrospective, “Mastry,” which subsequently traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The painting was gifted to LACMA by Lebowitz and his wife Deborah.