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Black History Month Kicks Off A Nationally-Touring Exhibition Of Paintings By Jacob Lawrence

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) of Salem, Massachusetts has opened Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, the first museum exhibition to feature the celebrated series of paintings, Struggle: From the History of the American People(1954–56), by Jacob Lawrence. Painted during the civil rights era by one of the best-known black American artists of the 20th century, the series of 30 intimate panels depicts pivotal moments in early American history with an emphasis on the contributions that black people, Native Americans and women made in shaping our nation’s founding and identity.

Reunited for the first time in more than 60 years, the Struggle series brings American history to life through energetic, expressive paintings that hug the boundary between figuration and abstraction. With an angular quality not present in Lawrence’s earlier work, the paintings are paired with quotes chosen by Lawrence.

The exhibition, organized by PEM and touring nationally through 2021, tackles a question central to Lawrence’s work: “What is the cost of democracy for all?“

Born in 1917, Lawrence broke through the color line of New York’s segregated art world when, at the age of 23, he created the Migration Series, a historical narrative that was instantly recognized as a masterpiece and became the first work by a black artist to be acquired by the Museum of Modern Art.

“This truly historic exhibition offers a rare opportunity to encounter Lawrence’s greatest and least-known works while considering our own relationship to the ongoing struggle for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” says PEM’s associate curator, Lydia Gordon. “His work continues to influence and impact so many today because his messages are urgent, pressing, and timeless.”

The exhibition will be on display at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) until April 26, 2020. From June 2 to September 7, 2020, it will be at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. October 17, 2020 to January 10, 2021, the exhibition will be at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Birmingham, Alabama, after which it will travel to the Seattle Art Museum in Seattle, Washington for a February 25 to May 31, 2021 display. Finally, it will be shown at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC from June 26 to September 19, 2021.

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