Three shows are better than one, at PAFA

Jacob Lawrence’s Hiroshima

Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence, Market (part of the Hiroshima series of paintings), Tempera and gouache on paper; 23 x 17 1/2 in. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Alexander Harrison Fund, 2008.3.8

There are several reasons to go to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts right now.


First there’s Jacob Lawrence‘s Hiroshima paintings in the Morris Gallery.

These are wrenching images of daily life disrupted by the nuclear bomb. The images deliver a sermon on what matters in life–people and their ways–and contrasts the stable society with the destruction of war.

The eight paintings were created by Lawrence in 1982 toward the end of his career to be made into a series of prints illustrating John Hersey’s book Hiroshima. Other wonderful images by Lawrence are also on display. Lawrence, born in 1917 in Atlantic City, is an African American artist who found a different approach to history painting (a genre that makes this work a perfect fit with PAFA’s collection). Much of his work chronicles African-American life and historical upheavals (such as his groundbreaking Migration of the Negro), works that beat out the history books in writing the African American experience into American history. Whatever his narrative, he’s a humanist to the end, not to mention a committed fighter for social justice.


PAFA recently acquired the paintings and has put them on display along with a number of other works by Lawrence.

Lawrence Jacob (American Revolution)
Jacob Lawrence, American Revolution, 1963, is one of the other paintings included in the exhibit. Gouache and tempera on paper; 23 x 15 in., Anonymous Collector, Courtesy of Peg Alston Fine Arts, Inc.

Lawrence’s paintings, even when his colors are somber, are jaunty yet often threatening, their compositions collage-like vortexes. I especially liked a painting of a dejected soldier, his broad, slumping body and face squeezing the margins. Lawrence is engaged political art at its best.


August 1 – December 28, 2008
Morris Gallery, Historic Landmark Building

Reverberations: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Bank of America Collection

As for reason number two for visiting PAFA–Roberta and I had to overcome some prejudices to walk into the Reverberations show. After all it’s a corporate collection (Bank of America), and therefore immediately suspect as risk-free. But we heard from a couple of different sources that it was a pretty good show.

Actually, it has some swell highlights, especially when it diverges from the usual suspects (I mean by those the male war horse contingent of Frank Stella, Donald Judd, etc.)

So enough about the grousing. Here are some of the things we really really really enjoyed.

Four color-loaded, draped paintings by Sam Gilliam are amazing, wry comments on the art historical tradition (no image, alas).

Roy De Forest (1930-2007)
Roy De Forest (1930-2007)
Young General George, 1976
Polymer paint with varnish; 66 1/2 x 82 3/4 in.

Young General George, by Roy De Forest, is a delight with its exuberant story-book fantastical quality and its outsider joyousness. And speaking of war horses, I especially liked the charming black-out horse, flat-out flat and virtually not there.

Milton Avery (1893-1965)Card Players, 1945Oil on canvas; 26 x 32 in.
Milton Avery (1893-1965). Card Players, 1945. Oil on canvas; 26 x 32 in.

Milton Avery. I always adore Milton Avery (me and the rest of the world I guess). He’s the king of less is more.

Roger Brown (1941-1997)
Roger Brown (1941-1997)
Hot Front Cold Front, 1980
Oil on canvas; 48 x 72 in.

A Roger Brown and a Joan Brown are hung side by side. We surmise Robert Cozzolino gets credit for the marriage. To see the Joan Brown painting, which we also loved, you’ll have to go to the show.

If you need still more reasons to see the show, try a photo from Todd Hido of weird night-time suburbs, or try a Ray Yoshida drawing of a woman who looks like a landscape that resembles Roger Brown’s skyscape (above).

Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building, June 28 – September 21, 2008.

Harnett, Peto and their Accomplices: Trompe l’oeil Paintings from the Collection

The third reason to go to PAFA, well, we never got to see it. But we’re not above giving it a plug because we’ve seen a number of these paintings in the past. So if you’re a fan of trompe l’oeil, there’s also the exhibit Harnett, Peto and their Accomplices: Trompe l’oeil Paintings from the Collection.

In the Historic Landmark Building’s Gallery 11 from April 14 – August 31, 2008.