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Kerry James Marshall’s public art will stay put at West Side library

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After criticism, the mayor pulled the mural from auction at Christie’s

Chicago Public Library

After much criticism, the public painting “Knowledge and Wonder” by Kerry James Marshall won’t be auctioned off at Christie’s in New York City. The art was commissioned for the Chicago Public Library’s Legler Branch on the city’s West Side and was expected to sell for at least $10 million.

The 10-by-23-foot mural features black children standing together in a dream-like scene playfully looking at books. The piece was part of a city program to bring art into public buildings in 1995 and cost $10,000. The Bronzeville artist told the Chicago Tribune he thought removing the piece from auction was “the right decision to make.”

The art is very much tied to the place where it lives, so many critics thought it was wrong and exploitive to turn this piece of public art into a profit. Marshall told the Tribune that auctioning public art off in this way was “short-sighted” of the city and officials. He even mentioned the city would probably get more money if they were to offer up the Daley Plaza’s Picasso sculpture.

In recent years, Marshall’s work has risen in popularity. It often depicts black people in historical settings where they would have not been seen, creating what the artist has called a “counter-archive”. One of the artist’s paintings recently sold to P. Diddy for $21 million, marking one of the highest sale prices for Marshall’s work so far. In 2016 the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago featured a retrospective exhibition, “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry,” which then traveled to Los Angeles and New York.

News of the painting’s auction was upsetting among art critics and after enough pressure, the Mayor ultimately decided against the November 15 auction.

According to the Tribune, he came to the conclusion that selling the art to fund improvements at the Legler CPL branch was not how he wanted to treat the city’s public art. Now, a less high-reaching version of the project will move forward with a budget closer to $1.8 million instead of $10 million.

The mayor said Marshall’s painting will be re-installed at Legler as soon as possible, and additional security will be arranged too.