Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis

June 4–August 21, 2016
Second floor

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’ 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 Carnival 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.

Installation Photos

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In the Press

“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

“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