Skip Navigation

Jacob Lawrence: American Painter

DATES October 01, 1987 through December 01, 1987
  • October 1, 1987 Jacob Lawrence, American Painter, a traveling retrospective spanning five decades in the career of one of this country’s foremost black artists, will open at The Brooklyn Museum October 2 and remain on view through November 30, 1987. The exhibition of more than 135 paintings which vividly chronicle the black experience provides a comprehensive survey of the artist’s work. The Brooklyn Museum is a fitting last stop on the presentation’s national tour, for Lawrence lived in Brooklyn more than twenty years and taught at Pratt Institute from 1955 to 1970. Moreover, the artist’s first major retrospective was held at the Museum in 1960.

    The exhibition, organized by the Seattle Art Museum, was funded by a grant from the IBM Corporation, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

    The American scene of Jacob Lawrence’s youth was New York City’s Harlem, where his family settled in 1930 when he was thirteen. Although the nation was then in the throes of the Depression, Harlem was still in the midst of a Renaissance. Thus, Lawrence spent the critical years of his adolescence in an environment marked not only by economic poverty but also by intellectual stimulation that encouraged the development of his social consciousness and an awareness of his black heritage. Through classes with artist Charles Alston at Utopia House and the Harlem Art Workshop, he came into contact with both the materials and the ideas that would inform his work throughout his career.

    Incisive depictions of Harlem street life figured strongly in Lawrence’s early works. These essentially simple genre scenes were soon followed by more complex works such as his Toussaint L’Ouverture Series of 1937-38, the first of his many projects in serial format. Consisting of 41 tempera paintings depicting key images relating to the Haitian fight for independence, this series embodies the essence of Lawrence’s art: a narrative content rooted in issues of moral and social struggle and a formal aesthetic that favors representative imagery rendered in a non-illusionistic manner.

    In 1941, with the exhibition of his Migration Series at the Downtown Gallery and the subsequent reproduction of a portion of the series in Fortune magazine, Lawrence earned national recognition. The first black artist to be invited to join a New York gallery, he has since enjoyed a long succession of awards and honors.

    Although new themes and subtle shifts in style have emerged in Lawrence’s art over the last fifty years, his social and moral concerns have remained constant. Much of his recent work concentrates on ideas of community, cooperation, and education.

    Jacob Lawrence, American Painter was selected and organized by Bruce Guenther, formerly Curator of Contemporary Art at the Seattle Art Museum and now Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. The installation at The Brooklyn Museum was coordinated by Barbara Dayer Gallati, Associate Curator of American Painting and Sculpture at the Museum.

    The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue which stands as the most complete and authoritative publication on Lawrence and his art to date.

    The Museum has organized a variety of public programs in conjunction with the exhibition. These programs include, among others, an interview with the artist conducted by Lawrence biographer Ellen Harkins Wheat on Sunday, October 4, from 2 to 4 p.m. A symposium on Saturday, November 14 will highlight the social, historical, and aesthetic issues in the development of black American art of the last fifty years. And a three-part seminar surveying the history of black American art will be offered for adults on Saturdays, October 31 and November 7 and 21, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1987, 078-79.
    View Original
  • October 11, 1987 A program of events for children organized by The Brooklyn Museum’s Education Department in conjunction with the exhibition Jacob Lawrence, American Painter will begin on October 11 at 3 p.m. when children meet the artist himself in a special afternoon discussion. Jacob Lawrence will discuss his artistic process and his paintings with children ages 6-18 in this first of three events for young people. Two afternoons of dramatic storytelling about the historic characters depicted in some of Lawrence’s work will entertain and inform young listeners.

    All of the events are free with Museum admission, suggested at $3 for adults, $1.50 for students and free for children 12 and younger. Reservations are required for the October 11 event only and may be made by calling (718)638-5000, extension 231.

    Storyteller-performers Marc Primus and Celestine De Saussure will weave tales and dramatize the powerful lives in “Harriet Tubman and Other Heroes in Jacob Lawrence’s Paintings” against the backdrop of Lawrence’s work on October 25 and November 8 at 3 p.m. in the Museum’s 5th floor American Galleries.

    Jacob Lawrence, American Painter, a retrospective spanning five decades in the career of one of this country’s foremost black artists, is on view at The Brooklyn Museum from October 2 through November 30. Programs held in conjunction with the exhibition have been made possible by a generous grant from IBM Corporation.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1987, 085.
    View Original