December 28, 2007

Jacob Lawrence's The Migration Of The Negro

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The kid is familiar with the work of Jacob Lawrence. He's the rectangle guy, duh. And Ellsworth Kelly is the square guy, and Jenny Holzer is the diamond girl...

One of the 60 paintings in Jacob Lawrence's masterpiece, The Migration of the Negro is included in her The Art of Shapes book. That MoCA series of contemporary art-meets-I Spy is a staple.

But the current exhibit at the Harlem art space Triple Candie is a strong reminder that Lawrence's work is meant to be seen all together. Titled, "Undoing the Ongoing Bastardization of ‘The Migration of the Negro’ by Jacob Lawrence,” the exhibition of full-size reproductions of all 60 paintings is a response to the Studio Museum of Harlem/Whitney show of 17 of the 30 odd-numbered works owned by the Phillips Collection.

[The even-numbered works were bought by MoMA, giving each museum an abridged version of the migration narrative. But the artist created the paintings as a sequence, an integrated whole. Seeing them split up is like listening to a song with every other note removed.]

The Migration Series could be an awesome story for a kid, either as an exhibit or a book. Lawrence provided his own narration to each painting [the one above, Panel 11: "In many places, because of the war, food had doubled in price."], and if you need to, you can skip the paintings of violence, or just let them float over the kid's head like smoke at a firebombed black neighborhood.

In 1993, two editions of The Migration Series were published for a Phillips retrospective of Lawrence's work. One is an art book, with an intro by Henry Louis Gates Jr., which prints each painting on its own spread. Copies range from $75-1250 on Abebooks, so yeah, not for kids.

But The Great Migration: An American Story is a kid's picturebook version which includes every painting, plus Lawrence's intro and captions. It's on Amazon used or new starting at a whopping 72 cents. The one I just bought was $3.75.

NYT review of the Whitney and Triple Candie Jacob Lawrence exhibitions [nyt]
Buy The Migration Series: An American Story on Amazon [amazon]
Search Abebooks sellers for The Migration Series exhibition catalogue [abebooks]

1 Comment

Their splitting up the paintings that were intended to be viewed as a whole seams obviously ridiculous.

The reorganization of Leonardo's codex also comes to mind. Now much of it is lost as is the original day to day flow of genius from the greatest mind in history.

This also reminds me of "The Wright 3" by Blue Balliett, the sequel to "Chasing Vermeer". It's about the dismantling of a Frank Loyd Wright house. Both books are great "tween" books. Like Da Vinci Code for Harry Potter fans.

[MoMA and Phillips bought them together, as soon as they were painted and shown--Lawrence was sort of the Jackie Robinson of the white art world. I'm sure in that power dynamic in 1941, the wishes of a 25-yo black artist exhibiting for the first time didn't matter too much. The Triple Candie show is as much about how the art world--and especially museums-- have dealt with Lawrence's work and largely ignored the artist's intentions for it, beginning with MoMA's offer to buy just half the Migration panels. -ed.]

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