This essay examines the tensions between dichotomies concerning the color black through the work of the abstract expressionist Norman Lewis and through some of Lewis’s philosophical ambitions that have found a place in the work of the contemporary artist Ellen Gallagher. Seizing an opportunity that liberated midcentury New York artists from naturalism and the shadows of European hegemony, Lewis may have found a liberation of his own in the abstraction and formalism that Gallagher now deftly manipulates. Gallagher’s work suggests a new aesthetic code that subverts the black subject in a formalist milieu and that, like Lewis’s oeuvre, presents simultaneous themes around the visibility and invisibility of blackness and speaks to an unmistakable black presence in the evolution and miscegenation of modernity.

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