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Press release

Jacob Lawrence’s Powerful Little-Known Series Struggle: From the History of the American People on View Beginning August 29


Exhibition Dates: August 29–November 1, 2020
Exhibition Location: The Met Fifth Avenue, Lila Acheson Wallace Wing,
Gallery 913 and Gallery 903

Opening August 29, 2020 at The Met Fifth Avenue, Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle will present a striking and little-known series of paintings by the esteemed American modernist Jacob Lawrence titled Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56). The exhibition marks the first time in more than half a century that the powerful multi-paneled series is being reunited. The series reveals the artist’s prescient visual reckoning with the nation’s complex history through iconic and folkloric narratives.

The exhibition is made possible by the Barrie A. and Deedee Wigmore Foundation.

It is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts.

Max Hollein, Director of The Met, "This exhibition celebrates one of the great modern artists through a stunning and important body of work. Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle series reflects on events in American history that were certainly poignant when they were created in the 1950s, and surely resonate today in the midst of the renewed national struggle and reckoning regarding racial justice and national identity."

Lawrence conceived Struggle as 60 tempera paintings, 12 by 16 inches, spanning subjects from European colonization to World War I. As he expressed it in a grant application, he intended to depict "the struggles of a people to create a nation and their attempt to build a democracy." In the end, Lawrence completed 30 panels—26 of which are extant today, including No. 10: Washington Crossing the Delaware, now in The Met collection—representing historical moments from 1775 through 1817— from Patrick Henry’s famous “liberty” speech to westward expansion. The angular, dynamic style of Lawrence’s imagery—compressed spatially for maximum effect—emphasize violent conflict and sacrifice. In their dynamic compositional design and vivid color scheme, the works rank among the artist’s most sophisticated, reflecting the assuredness of a mature painter and intellect.

Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle presents the artist’s reinterpretation and reimagining of key moments in the American Revolution and the early decades of the republic. This compelling and rarely seen body of work incorporates quotations that emphasize America's early fight for independence and expansionism as well as the oft-overlooked contributions of women and people of color. Lawrence painted Struggle at the height of the Cold War and Joseph McCarthy’s “Red Scare,” when the civil rights movement was also nascent, and the events of this transformative period deeply informed the artist’s approach to the historical subjects. Lawrence’s more inclusive representation of the nation's past is no less relevant today; amid ongoing issues and debates regarding race and national identity, it resonates profoundly.

Lawrence was a frequent visitor to The Met, in addition to being represented in the collection since 1942. To highlight that connection, four works on paper by the artist from the Museum’s collection will serve as a preamble to the exhibition in an adjacent gallery (gallery 903).

Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle is curated by Elizabeth Hutton Turner and Austen Barron Bailly are the organizing curators of Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle and Lydia Gordon is the exhibition's coordinating curator. The presentation at The Met is co-curated by Randall Griffey, Curator in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Sylvia Yount, Lawrence A. Fleischman Curator in Charge of the American Wing.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue; the multi-authored volume, featuring contributions by contemporary art historians, cultural historians, and artists, examines Lawrence’s epic American history series in diverse contexts that resonate profoundly today. Also available is the companion publication to the Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle exhibition catalogue, American Struggle: Teens Respond to Jacob Lawrence in which a diversity of teens from across the country explore what it means to be American today in poetry, free verse, essays, and autobiographical writings.

A variety of virtual educational programs—including a panel with colleagues from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture—will be offered.

The exhibition will be featured on the Museum's website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #MetJacobLawrence.


Updated August 23, 2020

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