You can't be born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1955, and grow up in South Central [Los Angeles] . . . and not feel like you’ve got some kind of social responsibility. You can't move to Watts in 1963 and not speak about it,” said the contemporary American artist Kerry James Marshall (born 1955) in a recent PBS documentary for its art:21 series. Speak about it he did, but wordlessly, in images such as Many Mansions (cover ). Part of his Garden Series, the monumental (9.5 × 11.3 feet) work was completed in 1994 and is now part of the permanent collection of The Art Institute of Chicago. The series had its genesis in what Marshall realized was a common, but ultimately absurd, use of the term “garden” to refer to public housing complexes. Many Mansions, for example, depicts Stateway Gardens, a complex of 1644 housing units in eight high-rise buildings that once occupied a 33-acre site along south State Street. Construction began in the year Marshall was born and by 1958 the population had reached 3000. Other “garden” complexes in Chicago were or are Altgeld Gardens, Lawndale Gardens, Rockwell Gardens, and Wentworth Gardens. About a year after he completed Many Mansions, Marshall completed Watts, 1963, which commemorates Nickerson Gardens of Los Angeles.
Southgate MT. Many Mansions. JAMA. 2007;297(17):1855. doi:10.1001/jama.297.17.1855
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