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Evening Rendezvous

1962 Norman Lewis Born: New York, New York 1909 Died: New York, New York 1979 oil on linen 50 1/4 x 64 1/4 in. (127.7 x 163.3 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Museum purchase 1994.32 Not currently on view


Gallery Label

Lewis came of age in the politically charged atmosphere of the 1930s, but in the postwar years, he often asserted that art could not solve society's problems. Still, Evening Rendezvous is a deeply political painting. The abstract dabs of white emerging from a gray twilight are hooded Klansmen, gathered around a bonfire suggested by the hot reds at the center of the image. Angular white shapes evoke the men closest to the headlights of their cars, while at the top of the canvas, others are obscured by blue smoke. The combination of red, white, and blue mocks the patriotism that the Klan claimed in its defense.

Most New York art critics in the 1950s and 1960s insisted that painting could be about nothing except painting. Any artist who argued otherwise risked bad press and lost sales. This climate might have led Lewis to proclaim that his art was meant solely to express "man's creative endeavors." Evening Rendezvous veered close to the forbidden territory of figural painting, and more importantly, it brought the turmoil of the civil rights movement into the gallery. But it is still enough of an abstract painting to suggest that Lewis veiled his subject in an acceptable language.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006

Keywords

Abstract

painting

paint - oil

fabric - linen