NEW YORK, NY.- DC Moore Gallery
presents Jacob Lawrence and Jack Levine, featuring paintings and drawings by two of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Though from different backgrounds - Lawrence (1917-2000) grew up in Harlem and Levine (b. 1915) in Bostons South End - their lives parallel each other in several ways, from the arc of their careers to their lifelong dedication to unique artistic visions. The exhibitions, which continue through February 6, are timed to coincide with Jack Levines 95th birthday.
Born within two years of one another, Levine and Lawrence both burst upon the scene and achieved national recognition while still in their early twenties. In 1937, Levine exhibited his painting, "The Feast of Pure Reason", at the Museum of Modern Art in New York to much critical acclaim, while, in 1941, Lawrence completed his epic sixty panel series, "The Migration of the Negro", which was soon acquired and divided between the Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. Both artists also joined Edith Halperts prestigious Downtown Gallery at age twenty-four, Levine in 1939 and Lawrence in 1941.
Each developed a highly individualized modernist approach, an expressive mode of painting that they often used to critique the injustice and dishonesty in American society. They also shared a commitment to figurative art throughout their long careers, disregarding trends in the art world that did not suit their purposes.
Lawrence focused much of his attention on aspects of African American life, with a socially engaged historical awareness in keeping with his life long conviction that art can effect social change. At the same time, his art is essentially humanistic, exploring a number of themes and ideas that address the universality of the human experience.
The exhibition highlights the range of Lawrences work, including Nigerian market scenes that capture his impressions of the rich cultural life of that country, done in response to an extended stay there in 1964. Also featured is a series of twenty-three lively ink drawings from 1969 that interpret Aesops Fables for a contemporary audience, which are being exhibited in New York as a complete set for the first time. In addition, selections from his Builders series express his belief in the everyday ideals of collective struggle, cooperation, and improvement.
For his part, Levine imparts a wry and penetrating social commentary to his work that deftly skewers the rich and powerful, along with all those whom he encounters who are inflated by pretension or hypocrisy. He also explores classical and biblical themes with an updated sensibility that demonstrates his long study of art history and mastery of the figurative tradition.
In "Orpheus in Vegas", for example, Levine mixes social satire with, in his words, something a little Rubensy and sensual, linking Frank Sinatra and four voluptuous showgirls with the most famous poet and musician of the classical world. "The Finding of Moses" brings a similar quality to an interpretation of a fundamental Old Testament narrative, as the child who will lead the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt is discovered by a glitzy retinue with all the extravagance and decadent trappings of a contemporary burlesque review.
Levine once said of himself that, I am primarily concerned with the condition of man. This is certainly true of Lawrence as well. Following their own directions, they created distinct bodies of socially conscious art that probe the strengths and weaknesses of the human race. The works in these exhibitions provide an opportunity to consider the remarkable range of their interests and concerns, highlighting their many contributions to a major aspect of twentieth-century American art.