The Museum of Modern Art announces an exhibition of Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series

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The Museum of Modern Art announces an exhibition of Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series
Jacob Lawrence. The Migration Series. 1940-41. Panel 52: “One of the largest race riots occurred in East St. Louis.” 1941. Casein tempera on hardboard, 18 x 12″ (45.7 x 30.5 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mrs. David M. Levy. © 2015 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Digital image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Museum of Modern Art marks the centennial of the beginning of the Great Migration, the multi-decade mass movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North, with the exhibition One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North from April 3 through September 7, 2015. The show highlights the ways in which Lawrence and others in his circles developed a set of innovative artistic strategies to offer perspectives on this crucial episode in American history. An extensive program of public events, performances, digital resources, and publications that underscore the movement's transformative impact on American culture, politics, and society will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition. One-Way Ticket is organized by The Museum of Modern Art and The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a division of the New York Public Library.

The exhibition at MoMA is organized Leah Dickerman, Curator, with Jodi Roberts, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture. The Phillips Collection will present an exhibition featuring the Migration Series in fall 2016, organized by Elsa Smithgall, Curator.

In 1941, Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000), then just 23 years old, completed a series of 60 small tempera paintings with text captions about the Great Migration. A child of migrants himself and a resident of Harlem since the age of 13, Lawrence's views as an artist were shaped by his immersion in heady contemporary debates about an artist's social responsibilities and about writing—and giving visual form to—African American history. Before beginning to paint the Migration Series, Lawrence spent months at the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library (now the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture) studying historical documents, books, photographs and journals, and other printed matter. The resulting work moved between scenes of terror and violence and scenes of great intimacy, and gave the visual arts a radically new vision of contemporary black experience. Within months of its completion, the series entered the collections of The Museum of Modern Art and the Phillips Memorial Gallery (today The Phillips Collection), with each institution acquiring half of the panels.

One-Way Ticket reunites all 60 panels of Lawrence’s Migration Series at MoMA for the first time in 20 years, and includes other accounts of the movement in a broad variety of media, including 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 J. Scott, and Walter White; and paintings by Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, and Charles White. The exhibition grounds Lawrence’s work within this rich context, shedding light on the ways in which he drew upon and transformed contemporary models for representing black history in America, and suggesting how the Migration Series functioned as an innovative form of political speech.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Ms. Dickerman and Ms. Roberts are collaborating with a range of partners to develop a robust program of new commissions, projects, and events that explore the history and legacy of the Great Migration, and its continuing influence on American culture and on New York City in particular.

New commissions include:

• Elizabeth Alexander, acclaimed poet and essayist, has commissioned 10 poets to write works inspired by the Migration Series. Participants include Rita Dove, Nikky Finney, Terrance Hayes, Tyehimba Jess, Yusef Komunyakaa, Patricia Spears Jones, Natasha Trethewey, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Crystal Williams, and Kevin Young. The resulting poems will appear in the exhibition catalogue. The celebrated poets will give a debut reading of their poems, moderated by Elizabeth Alexander and followed by a conversation, on the evening of May 1, 2015, at MoMA.

• Terrance McKnight, a host on New York City classical music station WQXR, curates an evening of music and performance with artists including Jim Davis, Karen Chilton, Bill T. Jones, Alicia Hall Moran, Jason Moran, Damien Sneed, and Bob Stewart at MoMA on April 23, 2015. The performance will be recorded for potential broadcast at a later date.

• MoMA’s Department of Media and Performance Art has commissioned a multipart work by Brooklyn-based artist Steffani Jemison called Promise Machine. Inspired by the Utopia Neighborhood Club, a Harlem-based women’s social service organization that directly supported Jacob Lawrence, Jemison’s project features a reading club and a performance prompted by the idea of utopia. Steffani Jemison: Promise Machine is organized by Stuart Comer, Chief Curator, and Thomas J. Lax, Associate Curator, with Martha Joseph, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Media and Performance Art.

• MoMA’s Department of Film has commissioned a new film by Los Angeles–based filmmaker Thom Andersen that will premiere in June 2015. JUKE: Passages from the Films of Spencer Williams (2015) reconsiders the 1940s films of the pioneering African American writer-director Spencer Williams. JUKE will open a MoMA film series showcasing a concise selection of fiction and nonfiction films made during the Migration period, including newsreels and rare home movies from the 1930s and 1940s. JUKE and the film series are organized by Josh Siegel, Curator, Department of Film.

• Acclaimed writer Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts and award-winning illustrator Christopher Myers will join forces to create a new MoMA book for children (ages three to eight) titled Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, a Young Artist in Harlem, inspired by the artist’s arrival in New York at the age of 13.

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