The PAFA // Field Trip

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; March 17; Processions, the art of Norman Lewis


march20on20washingtonOn the afternoon of March 17 (a Thursday), I stumbled out of bed at noon with the leftovers of yesterday’s headache and an awful night’s sleep to visit the PAFA, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It was an odd crowd that day– on one hand there was a group of incredibly loud school children with clipboards who had come to learn and draw, and on the other hand a group of frowning old people. Although the children were loud and filled the museum with the kind of noise it ought not have, I was charmed and pleased that they possessed the opportunity to visit the museum at all.

I was at the museum because I had an assignment to visit the Norman Lewis exhibit. Norman Lewis was a painter in the mid 20th century, who although was prolific during his life, is often left out of modern art history. It’s quite sad, but the PAFA has compiled a comprehensive exhibit of his work.

My own personal aesthetics led me away from his more representative work (as much as one gets with someone associated closely with abstract expressionism) and towards the large-scale abstraction. I like large, bright things. I tend to favor color over form and stratification over the X composition of his more celebrated work.

Norman Lewis was loathe to admit it, but a large chunk of his work was politically charged. The PAFA exhibit is curated by theme, so all the Civil Rights works are grouped together and as a whole they are the most striking of his work. Sitting on a bench between Alabama, 1960 and A Journey to an End, I was unsettled, to say the least. And American Totem is the star of the show. It’s encased in glass in such a way that if I were a few inches taller, I would be wearing the white hood.



Like all art, it’s better to see the work in person. The Norman Lewis runs for about another week or two longer, if you’re in the Philadelphia area and can come see it. The PAFA is free on Sunday to everyone during the exhibition run and all the time to students attending colleges in the area. Lewis really was a wonderful painter, and his strokes should be soon up close and personal. Plus, the PAFA is a wonderful little museum and is much easier to get to than the Fine Arts Museum. Oh, and there’s a cafe attached that sells good lattes.