The Center of Periphery

The Jewish Museum’s current exhibition, From the Margins: Lee Krasner and Norman Lewis, 1945 – 1952, brings together two seminal mid-century artists in an intimate and beautifully curated collection of paintings. Lovers of abstract expressionism will recognize the genre’s sweeping brush strokes, subconscious elements coming to the fore, bold color combinations and inventive interpretations of environment.

The show evinces the way this pair (born a year apart) worked in concurrent mediums under the movement of abstract expressionism but did so in wholly individualistic styles, capturing their experiences, thoughts and emotions on canvas in ways that are at once similar yet divergent. Both worked prolifically throughout their lives and while each attained recognition for their work, they were most usually on the sidelines of the larger art world.

From the Margins Exhibit 1

Lee Krasner, Noon. Oil on Linen, 1947.

What is a most interesting companion to the show is a short series of interviews produced by the Smithsonian Institute which may be listened to in a large gallery while reflecting on the pieces within. These interview excerpts illustrate how these artists navigated a field dominated primarily by artist “stars.” While Lee Krasner contested her pieces being questioned as “feminine,” Norman Lewis was considered an anomaly as a black artist (which he never thought of himself exclusively as). Both artists spent much of their careers feeling mystified by, and struggling against, these labels. While each certainly spoke to their personal experiences on the canvas they also felt their work was much broader as they were making more universal statements for humanity.

From the Margins Exhibit 2

Norman Lewis, Untitled. Oil on Canvas, 1946.

The show is a pleasure to view—it’s small, approximately 38 pieces—but the size exudes much concentrated power. My two favorite pieces, entitled Noon and Untitled, summed up the experience for me. I was also captivated by two self-portraits that demonstrated, in a classical sense, their prowess with a brush and respective training.

I highly recommend this collection but see it soon as it closes on February 1!