Saturday, November 5, 2016

Norman Lewis in Chicago

In many ways, the trip to Chicago was set in motion when I heard about the Norman Lewis exhibit, originally on view in Philadelphia was coming to Chicago this fall.  This seems to be the last stop on the tour, and the show closes Jan 8, 2017.  It is a nice show, though I probably wouldn't suggest anyone further away than Milwaukee travel to see the show, since it is contained in only three rooms on the top floor of the Chicago Cultural Center, and they didn't actually get the works on paper, so it is a smaller show than was on view in Philadelphia.  The catalog is a very good investment, however, particularly if you like abstract art.

Norman Lewis is quite an interesting figure in 20th Century art, since he was one of the few African-American artists to stick with abstract art for the majority of his work.  (His earlier works are figurative, but the majority are entirely abstract.  In fact, there is a fairly early work in this exhibit where Lewis is basically mimicking a Kandinsky, trying to figure out what makes it tick.)  Romare Bearden often worked in an updated Cubist style, but still was largely figurative.  That in itself might not justify an exhibit, but Lewis's work is sort of quietly impressive, and when looking at the sweep of his work, he does seem like a neglected figure, worthy of this reassessment.  I know that I had started paying attention to his incredibly detailed works, probably starting with the one on view at the Smart Museum in Hyde Park (Chicago).  This one is not in the exhibit, but at least it is in the catalog.  There is also a nice Lewis painting in the St. Louis Art Museum.  It's a little difficult for me to reconstruct exactly which painting triggered my interest in Lewis, but it would have been one very much like the one in Chicago or St. Louis: on the small side and incredibly detailed.  Lewis gradually moved to larger canvases, and quite a few of these are in the exhibit.

Of the earlier, figurative pieces, this one grabbed me, probably because of the odd color scheme.

Norman Lewis, Title Unknown (Potato Eaters), 1945

Of the mid-sized paintings, this one was my favorite.
Norman Lewis, Title Unknown (Procession), 1949

Here is a close-up, just hinting at the detail in so many of these works.

I think this was my favorite of the larger-scale abstract works.  For some reason, I have it in my head that this is a tiger mixed with a giraffe, but seen from somewhere in the fourth dimension.

Norman Lewis, Exodus, 1972

These three photos attempt to provide a sense of what wandering through the exhibit was like, though I have skipped over the earliest paintings to focus on Lewis's abstract work.

It was a well-curated exhibit, and definitely worth checking out if one is in Chicago.

No comments:

Post a Comment