December 28, 2007

Jacob Lawrence: Painting as aesthetic object or historic narrative?

Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series: Selections From the Phillips Collection,” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY. Through Jan. 6.

Undoing the Ongoing Bastardization of ‘The Migration of the Negro’ by Jacob Lawrence,” Triple Candie, New York, NY. Through Jan. 20. Slide show.

This exhibition, originally organized by the Studio Museum in Harlem but presented at the Whitney for conservation reasons, includes seventeen panels from Lawrence's sixty-panel Migration Series, and is being written about more for what's not in the show than for what is. The tempera panels portray the flight of more than six million African Americans from the impoverished communities in the rural South to the industrial cities of the North. Years ago, the original sixty panels were split between the Phillips Collection and the Museum of Modern Art. Moma got the even numbers, and Phillips the odd. Triple Candie, protesting how the museums split up the series, is presenting reproductions of the entire series, which was last seen in its entirety at MoMA in 2001. This is the first time all the images have been shown together in Harlem. In the NYTimes, Holland Cotter writes that both exhibitions are worth seeing. "One outstanding reason to visit the 'Migration' show at the Whitney is to see it in the context of another of the museum’s current exhibitions: the Kara Walker retrospective. If you want an immediate sense of Lawrence’s far-reaching influence, here it is, in the work of a brilliant younger artist who has taken his narrative impulse, in all its dynamic complexity, in innovative directions. ...And there are two good reasons to visit the Triple Candie show: It presents the complete 'Migration of the Negro' series, or a version of it; and it shows it in the Harlem neighborhood where Lawrence created it, a neighborhood that became predominantly African-American as a direct result of that migration. I was just as moved to see the series in reproduction there as I was to see it complete in its original form at the Whitney six years ago, if for different reasons. What’s more real, after all, art or the feeling of it? History or the telling of it? Medium or message? We know the conventional market wisdom. It’s important to have the alternative." Read more.

Related posts:
Kara Walker's racy cutouts arrive at the Whitney
Blogger/art dealer Edward Winkleman's take on splitting the series and the Triple Candie response.

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