The legacy of the Harlem Renaissance is more tangible than any other period of black history.
It was the movement of the black intelligentsia to one central spot—Uptown. All you had to do was “Take the A Train,’’ and get off at 125th Street, to hear the great Duke Ellington at the Apollo. To wander the boulevards of Harlem was to traverse the haunts of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.
Black arts were catapulted to international acclaim at this juncture of history, from the 1920s to the early ‘30s. African-American literature and jazz music filled the black consciousness of America.
Among these luminaries was artist Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000). Like many at the time, he was a child of the Great Migration. This exodus from the harsh Jim Crow South to the more progressive North brought thousands to promised opportunities.
With everything they had, black families hobbled into second-class seats on bustling trains headed for Chicago, Detroit and New York. Amidst this group of migrants was the family of Lawrence, a noted painter. The sharp lines of his figures and his distortions of shape and proportion document the urbanization of black culture.
A member of the U.S. Coast Guard, he traveled extensively, and used his experiences to influence his artwork. His larger-than-life figures and strong use of colors chronicle a moment in black history.
Currently, at the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale, one of Lawrence’s paintings is on display. The piece is a part of the museum’s new exhibit, America's Coming of Age: American Art, 1850s to 1950s.
We can charter American art history through each era of the hundred years documented in the exhibit. From natural realism to the abstractions of Jackson Pollock, we can recognize the changing modes in subject matter.
For art lovers and amateurs alike, there are contributions from Georgia O’Keefe and Alexander Calder. The collection has toured Dallas, London and Venice.
Additionally at the art museum, there is a display featuring the work of Cuban-born Carlos Luna and a rarely seen ceramic collection by Pablo Picasso.
The Jacob Lawrence work featured in the Coming of Age exhibit is The Kibitzers. It’s an amazing opportunity to view a work of art that has been held in the Addison Gallery of Art at Phillips Academy, in Andover, Mass., since 1951. The title alone speaks to the time in which it was created. In 1948, World War II had just ended, unemployment was high across the country; particularly in the largely black enclave of Harlem.
According the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to “kibitz’’ is to offer unsolicited advice.
Within the piece, the crowd of onlookers is doing just that. You can imagine the men huddled around an impromptu checkers game, egging each other on, plotting a friend's next move.
With a crisp wind whipping around their shoulders, the group is bent over the checker board, which is balanced perilously on laps. Perhaps the strategizing involved represents the moves each of these men made in determining how to find work and to navigate life beneath 95th Street, where Harlem begins.
“It is a wonderful merging of abstraction, color and pattern that seems to be significant within the context of American art of that period,” said Susan Faxon, curator at the Addison Gallery.
This is a great opportunity to incorporate art and history for youngsters. The whole family will appreciate the broad range of works included.
Photo by Mychal McDonald. Irvin Lippman, executive director of the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale, enjoys Jacob Lawrence’s The Kibitzers.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Coming of Age: American Art from the 1850s to the 1950s, an art exhibit at the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale.
WHEN: Until March 23, 2009, the exhibit is open every day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. On the third Thursday of each month, there is free admission from 5 to 7 p.m.
WHERE: Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale, One East Las Olas Boulevard at Andrews Avenue in Fort Lauderdale.
COST: Adults: $10, students (6-17), seniors (65+) and military personnel are admitted for $7. Admitted free are children 5 and under, college students with ID and children with Broward County library cards.
CONTACT: Please call the museum with any questions at 954-525-5550 or log onto http://www.moafl.org/.