Amon Carter Museum of American Art Presents Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis

Release date: 
March 10, 2016

FORT WORTH—The Amon Carter Museum of American Art presents the first comprehensive museum retrospective of the work of Norman Lewis (1909–1979), on view June 4–August 21, 2016. Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis features approximately 65 paintings and works on paper from the early 1930s through the late 1970s. Admission is free.

Organized by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts with the full support and assistance of Lewis’ family, and curated by Ruth Fine, recently retired after a four-decade career at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Procession brings together work from major public and private collections. Many of the works will be on public view for the first time.

“It has been a privilege to come to know Lewis’ work by visiting collectors throughout the United States, many of whom are generously lending to PAFA’s Procession exhibition,” Fine says. “We hope to reveal the full scope of Lewis’ artistic engagement, highlighting his unique commitment to exploring possibilities within abstraction by conflating them with references to the perceived world.”

As a participant in the New York City art scene in both Harlem and downtown, Lewis was an influential contributor to Abstract Expressionism, a member of the prestigious Willard Gallery from 1946 to the mid-1960s, and a politically conscious activist throughout his life. Issues of race prevented him from fully participating in the social and networking aspects of gallery life, and caused his work to remain, even today, less well-known than that of his white contemporaries such as Willem de Kooning and Ad Reinhardt.

The “procession” in the exhibition’s title highlights a prominent thread that runs through much of Lewis’ work: the procession ritual. Processions could be both celebratory and terrifying for Lewis, equally carrying allusions to carnevale and Ku Klux Klan marches. Such duality was at the heart of his artistic practice, which employed representation and abstraction, geometric and organic forms, somber calligraphic markings and brilliant fields of color.

Procession will consider the complexity of Lewis’ art by examining the role of figuration within Abstract Expressionism and how Lewis subtly referenced social issues within an essentially abstract mode. The exhibition also will highlight the richly expressive palette the artist championed throughout his career.

The exhibition will be organized chronologically and thematically around six motifs:
• In the City looks at how Lewis explored the geometric density of Harlem, New York, inspired at the start of his career by urban life and the social issues of the Depression, leading to a year of transition to abstraction in 1945.
• Visual Sound explores the importance of music in Lewis’ art, particularly but not solely jazz, both in respect to subjects (musicians) and form (the painterly conveyance of rhythm and sound).
• Rhythm of Nature examines how the natural world impacted Lewis’ practice: light, wind, water (he was an avid fisherman), seasonal changes (spring and winter are referenced in his titles), plant life and other organic elements.
• Ritual reveals how the Labor Day Parade, which began in Harlem in the 1940s and mirrored the West Indian Carnival, set Lewis on a path in which the procession assumed a central place within his work.
• Civil Rights focuses on dramatic canvases of the 1960s, when the devastating impact of the Ku Klux Klan was an inspiration for powerful red-and-white and black-and-white images that evoke the horrors of the time.
• Summation features work from the 1970s, including some of Lewis’ largest canvases and most highly developed and subtle paintings on paper.

The major exhibition sponsors are the National Endowment for the Arts, Christie’s and the Terra Foundation for American Art on behalf of board members Ruth Fine, Mimi Gardner Gates, Chester A. Gougis, Charles Harper, Michael Leja, Peter Lunder, Gloria Scoby and Greg Williamson. Additional support from AG Foundation, Ed Bradley Family Foundation, Valentino D. Carlotti, Dorothy Lichenstein, Frank and Katherine Martucci, Raymond J. McGuire and Crystal McCrary, and Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer and Joe Neubauer.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated scholarly catalogue published in association with University of California Press, that retails for $55 in the Museum Store. Procession completes its national tour at the Chicago Cultural Center September 17, 2016–January 8, 2017.

Free Public Programs
I Don’t Get It: Untangling Abstract Expressionism Gallery Talk
June 16, 6:30–7:30p.m.

Amon Carter Curator Shirley Reece-Hughes discusses Abstract Expressionism and how Norman Lewis and others radically changed accepted conventions of painting technique and subject matter. Registration for this program opens May 1. Call 817.989.5030 or email to reserve your seat.

Art and Jazz Performance
August 18, 7–9 p.m.

Spend the evening outdoors and enjoy live jazz music that inspired artist Norman Lewis.