Figuring History

Pick of the WeekVisual Arts

Thu Feb 15, 2018 – Sun May 13, 2018

Partner Organization

Seattle Art Museum


Seattle Art Museum
1300 1st Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101

Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas brings together three generations of contemporary American artists whose work challenges a Western painting tradition that underrepresents people of color. The vibrant and monumental paintings by these artists offer bold perspectives on Black culture and representation. Presented together for the first time, the figurative paintings of Colescott, Marshall, and Thomas are shaped by distinctive historic events, unique in style, and united in questioning the narratives of history through Black experience.

The works of these artists together reassess both history painting and history itself through layered references to paintings from the European art history canon. History painting began in 15th-century Europe and traditionally featured imagery that demonstrated the power and the values of the ruling elite. Missing from these works of art were the histories of people of color told on their own terms. In their portrayals, Colescott, Marshall, and Thomas provide testimony centered on Black perspectives in a contemporary context.

PLEASE NOTE: The museum will be open late on February 15 for a FREE public celebration featuring music, performances, art making, and more. From 7 PM - 8 PM that evening, there will be a discussion with two of the artists featured in the exhibit. RSVP on Facebook here


Forgotten Black Brilliance

I’m skeptical about art exhibits, I enjoy them enough, but find trouble in writing reviews for them. The art of painting has never been a breathtaking experience for me, in creating or viewing, and so when visiting paintings I find that my perspectives can be more negative and unappealing than most. But with "Figuring History," I was surprised—it felt new and different. The exhibit features three different artists, who all portray black America and forgotten black figures.

George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook, 1975, Robert...

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Strategically Highlighted in Glitter

“Figuring History,” - a powerful new exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum- insists on representation for the underrepresented. “Figuring History” features the cross-generational work of three artists—Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, and Mickalene Thomas—whose paintings highlight the ways in which people of color have been traditionally left out of art and history. This exhibition changes the subject of the rich history of painting, and tells the stories of people of color from their own perspectives. This, combined with the exuberance of each artist’s work, makes this...

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