Debt

The painting’s title is Grace. In it, four brown-skinned boys sit on chairs in a field. The chairs are formal dining chairs with curved and spindly legs; the boys, in black shorts and white shirts, are precariously balanced, facing this way and that. The painting is executed in a sketchy, fluid style, one of the limbs almost like a flipper, but although some features are blurry, ill defined, each face wears a singular and intense expression. In the distance, on a hill, a white church. The painting’s mood is serene, elegiac. It’s easy to imagine singing coming from the church, “Amazing Grace,” perhaps. Grace was the star of the Appenzellar retrospective at the Whitney Museum, the painting in the last room, with a crowd in front of it. The show itself was titled Graceland: The Art of Ada Appenzellar. According to the show’s catalog the painting “interrogates” what it means to be black in the United States at the present moment: these black boys who sit so precariously on their formal chairs in this verdant field convey hopefulness; this is—will be?—the real America. More to the point (to some people), the painting is worth millions of dollars. But it isn’t for sale. Grace belongs to Ira Glassman, it hangs in his living room. The painting’s title card reads Collection Ira Glassman. That means more to him than any amount of money.

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