Peter Schjeldahl at The New Yorker:
In 1993, seven years before his death, at the age of eighty-two, Jacob Lawrence recast the title and most of the captions of a stunning suite of sixty small paintings that he had made in 1941. The pictures, in milk-based casein tempera on hardboard, detailed the exodus that began during the First World War of African-Americans from the rural South to the urban North. The original title, “The Migration of the Negro,” became “The Migration Series.” The prolix captions were condensed and clarified, with only five of them left unedited, including the last, a swelling coda to the sequence’s rhythmic montage: “And the migrants kept coming.” Art historians quail at alterations of canonical works, even by their creators. But Lawrence wasn’t working for art history, even if he was making it. He wanted to change the world. A profoundly moving show of all sixty paintings in “The Migration Series” at the Museum of Modern Art—the installation, by the curator Leah Dickerman, includes contemporaneous works by other artists, photographers, musicians, and writers—stirs reflection on the character and the relative success of that aim. The work’s originality calls for a term other than “history painting”: sociology painting, perhaps, which defines not only a bygone era but a deeply conditioned and persistent yet quaking ground of common cultural experience and political consequence. The pictures remain the same. The eyes that behold them—ours—both do and don’t.