City Paper is not for tourists
Jacob Lawrence was an artist, not a writer, but the 60-painting “Migration Series” sums up the African-American struggle in its final pane with a sentence so perfectly succinct and telling of perseverance: “And the migrants kept coming.” Lawrence’s images would be able to stand alone as great works, but the simple storytelling of his captions, in blunt prose, builds momentum and contributes to the epic feeling of the journey through repetition: Every few panels, we’re reminded that, as in No. 23, “The migration spread.” Lawrence completed the series about African-American migration from the South to the industrialized North at age 24, after renting a loft big enough to spread out the tiny paintings in order to work on all of them at the same time. It made him a star, and the purchase of the paintings was split by the Phillips Collection and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (the Phillips took the odd-numbered panels; the MoMA, the evens). The series is reunited at the Phillips until Oct. 26. Lawrence’s style can be as sparse as his prose. The paintings are characterized by flat, unmixed color and bold shapes and silhouettes. They range from figurative images of families enduring southern hardships and waiting at train stations, to nearly abstract depictions of farmland and cityscapes. Despite some joyful paintings, like the image of a well-dressed family arriving in Pittsburgh with an overflowing basket of food, there is also great sadness: After coming north, a woman hunches over to stir a tub of laundry, still burdened with work after escaping for a better life. The exhibition is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays to Sunday, Oct. 26, at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW. Free on weekdays; $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students on weekends. (202) 387-2436.