This is the first comprehensive museum exhibition on Norman Lewis (1909–1979), which explores his influential role in American art from the 1930s through the 1970s. Lewis was a pivotal figure in the Harlem art community and the abstract expressionist movement; he was also a politically conscious activist who was able to reflect the currents of the civil rights movement in his abstract work. The approximately 70 artworks in this exhibition reveal the artist’s dramatic range, from his early figurative works dealing with social issues to his mature abstract expressionist paintings conveying music and sound, as well as politically charged issues, to his late, spiritually imbued works.
The “procession” in the exhibition’s title evokes Lewis’s intriguing painterly process and highlights a prominent thread that runs throughout his oeuvre: the ritual of procession. Processions were both celebratory and terrifying for Lewis, equally carrying allusions to carnivale 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.
Organized by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), Procession considers the complexity of Lewis’s art in its entirety, examining his use of figuration within his abstract expressionist style, his ability to integrate social issues and abstraction, and the surprising and expressive palette he championed throughout his career.
Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis was featured on CBS's Sunday Morning!
“This show, with nearly 100 works, should go a long way to repositioning Lewis in the canon of American postwar innovators.” —The Guardian
“A welcome opportunity to assess the rich and varied path of Lewis’s art.” —The New York Times
"Whatever their subject matter, his paintings reveal there is no color barrier to transcendence." —The Wall Street Journal
“…his thoughtful and probing art is just unfamiliar enough that we actually confront it freed from any prejudice or preconceived ideas.” —Dallas Morning News
“More than 35 years after his death, the painter who broadened the borders of abstract painting and of black American art is getting his time in the spotlight.” —Art and Seek
Look for a ring of cards in the exhibition that help you look more closely at Norman Lewis’s use of color, line, and shape.
Large print labels are available for use in the exhibition.
Free tours of this exhibition take place Thursday through Sunday at 3 p.m. and begin at the exhibition entrance on the second floor. No reservations are required.
Visit the museum’s Research Library to learn more about Norman Lewis. The Library offers public hours on Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Thursdays from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m.