Exiting New York soon is one of the greatest art series in American history, “The Great Migration”
In 1941, Jacob Lawrence, then just 23 years old, completed a series of 60 small tempera paintings with text captions about the Great Migration. The Great Migration was the movement of 6 million African Americans out of the rural Southern United States to the urban Northeast, Midwest, and West that occurred between 1910 and 1970.
Within months of the completion of The Great Migration series the collection entered The Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Memorial Gallery (today The Phillips Collection), with each institution acquiring half of the panels. Lawrence’s work is now an icon in both collections, a landmark in the history of modern art, and a key example of the way that history painting was radically re-imagined in the modern era.
The exhibition is being revisited at a relevant time in history. Today’s map of the world is a complex spider’s web of migrant movement. In 2013, there were 232 million “international migrants” in the world (defined by the UN as people who have lived a year or longer outside their country of birth). This figure includes refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants – anyone who has crossed a border, legally or illegally, to escape disaster or persecution or simply to pursue a better life. The Great Migration, closing September 7th, highlights migrants in a populous fashion. The series depicts people, hard working and hopeful to find a place to settle down and make a life.
In addition to the paintings the exhibition includes other accounts of the Migration from the era, documented accounts, in the form of novels and poems by writers such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Richard Wright; music by Josh White, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday; photographs by Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Gordon Parks, and Robert McNeill; sociological tracts by Carter Woodson, Charles Johnson, Emmett Scott, and Walter White; and paintings by Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, and Charles White. The range of works in the exhibition sheds light on the ways in which Lawrence drew upon and transformed contemporary models for representing black experience in America.
11 West 53 Street New York, NY 10019
hours: 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Through September 7th