Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis

The first comprehensive museum overview of Norman Lewis: a pivotal figure in American art, a participant in the Harlem art community, an innovator of Abstract Expressionism, and a politically-conscious activist

Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis was featured on CBS News Sunday Morning!

“This show, with nearly 100 works, should go a long way to repositioning Lewis in the canon of American postwar innovators.” The Guardian

“A welcome opportunity to assess the rich and varied path of Lewis’s art.” The New York Times

"Whatever their subject matter, his paintings reveal there is no color barrier to transcendence." The Wall Street Journal

Read about Norman Lewis in "Black Artists and the March into the Museum," a recent front-page article in The New York Times.

PAFA is offering free museum admission every Sunday for the duration of Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis.

Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis (1909-1979), is the first comprehensive museum overview of this influential artist, who explored multiple styles and whose extraordinary work spanned several decades of the 20th century. Norman Lewis was a pivotal figure in American art, a participant in the Harlem art community, an innovative contributor to Abstract Expressionism, and a politically-conscious activist. Bringing together works from major international public and private collections, the exhibition is organized with the full support of Lewis’ family. 

It includes approximately 90 paintings and works on paper dating from the early 1930s through the late 1970s, as well as archival materials from the artist’s estate. The exhibition highlights the diverse visual apparatus Lewis explored in parallel groups of works over the course of his career.

The “procession” in the exhibition’s title evokes Lewis’ intriguing painterly process and highlights a prominent thread that runs through his oeuvre: the procession ritual. Processions were both celebratory and terrifying for Lewis, equally carrying allusions to carnevale and Ku Klux Klan marches. Such duality was at the heart of his artistic practice, which consistently employed modes of representation and abstraction; geometric and organic form; and emotional content ranging from joy to rage.

Procession considers the complexity of Lewis’ art in its entirety: It examines the role of figuration within Abstract Expressionism, considers how Lewis integrated social issues with abstraction, and highlights the surprising and expressive palette the artist championed throughout his career.

For more, see Stone and Metal: Lithographs and Etchings by Norman Lewisthe companion exhibition to Procession. 

See photos from the Preview Reception for Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis.

Beyond PAFA

After the PAFA presentation, Procession: The Art of Norman Lewis will travel to additional venues:

Amon Carter Museum of American Art
June 4 - August 21, 2016

Chicago Cultural Center
September 17, 2016 - January 8, 2017

For more on PAFA's exhibitions on tour, click here.


This beautifully illustrated catalog accompanies the first major museum retrospective of the painter Norman Lewis (1909-1979). Lewis was the sole African-American artist of his generation who became committed to issues of abstraction at the start of his career and continued to explore them over its entire trajectory. His art derived inspiration from music (jazz and classical) and nature (seasonal change, plant forms, the sea). Also central to his work were the dramatic confrontations of the Civil Rights Movement, in which he was an active participant among the New York art scene. Bridging the Harlem Renaissance, abstract Expressionism, and beyond, Lewis is a crucial figure in American abstraction whose reinsertion into the discourse further opens the field for recognition of the contributions of artists of color. Bringing much-needed attention to Lewis’ output and significance in the history of American art, Procession is a milestone in Lewis scholarship and vital resource for future study of the artist and abstraction in his period. Published in association with University of California Press.

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