Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis
(1909-1979), will be the first comprehensive overview of this influential artist, who explored multiple styles and whose extraordinary work spanned several decades of the twentieth-century. Norman Lewis was a pivotal figure in American art, a participant in the Harlem art community, an innovative contributor to abstract expressionism, and a politically-conscious activist. Bringing together works from major international public and private collections, the exhibition is organized with the full support of Lewis’ family.It will include approximately eighty paintings, works on paper, and the artist’s hand-made puppets, dating from the early 1930s through the late 1970s and will highlight the diverse visual apparatus Lewis explored in parallel groups of works over the course of his career.The “procession
” in the exhibition’s title evokes Lewis’s intriguing painterly process and highlights a prominent thread that runs through his oeuvre
: the procession ritual.
Processions were both celebratory and terrifying for Lewis, equally carrying allusions tocarnevale
and Ku Klux Klan marches. Such duality was at the heart of his artistic practice, which consistently employed modes of representation and abstraction; geometric and organic form; and emotional content ranging from joy to rage.For more than four decades Lewis participated in two distinct spheres of New York’s artistic realm. A major figure within African American circles, he also contributed to the mainstream of abstract expressionism during its years of greatest impact. In the 1930s Lewis was a founding member of the Harlem Artists’ Guild and in the 1960s was the first president of Spiral, a group of artists,
including Romare Bearden and Hale Woodruff,
committed in their work to exploring important civil rights issues. From 1946 through 1964, along with David Smith and Mark Tobey among others, he was represented by the prestigious Willard Gallery, where he had six solo shows and was part of many group exhibitions. In 1950 the artist participated in the landmark three-day symposium at Studio 35 in Manhattan.
Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and Lewis’close friend, Ad Reinhardt, were also among those who discussed ideas and values essential to their work at the symposium. Norman Lewis: A Retrospective
was organized by City College, New York in 1976.After his death, Lewis’s art continued to receive strong admiration within a forward-looking African American artistic community; and in the past decade it has become increasingly visible in mainstream group exhibitions, museum collections, and the marketplace. Procession
will consider the complexity of Lewis’s art in its entirety: it will examine the role of figuration within abstract expressionism, will consider how Lewis integrated social issues with abstraction, and will highlight the surprising and expressive palette the artist championed throughout his career.Curators:
The exhibition curator is Ruth Fine, recently retired from the National Gallery of Art after a long and productive career, highlights of which were the development and coordination of The Dorothy and Herbert Vogel Collection: Fifty Works for Fifty States
; and exhibitions of the art of Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, John Marin, and Georgia O’Keeffe among others. In 2003, Fine was curator for the highly acclaimed Art of Romare Bearden
exhibition which travelled from Washington to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The Dallas Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Coordinating curator is Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts senior curator and curator of modern art, Robert Cozzolino, who has acquired several works by Lewis for PAFA’s collection.
The major exhibition sponsor is Christie’s. Additional support from AG Foundation, L. Ann and Jonathan P. Binstock, Dorothy Lichtenstein, Robert Horwitz, Frank Martucci, and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ public programs are funded in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency).
General operating support provided, in part, by The Philadelphia Cultural Fund