Traveling Exhibitions

John Wilson, Compositional study for The Incident, 1952. Opaque and transparent watercolor, ink, and graphite, squared for transfer. Yale University Art Gallery, Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund. © Estate of John Wilson

Reckoning with “The Incident”: John Wilson’s Studies for a Lynching Mural

  • January 25, 2019–April 7, 2019
    Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College, Iowa
  • June 3, 2019–August 9, 2019
    David C. Driskell Center, University of Maryland, College Park
  • October 6, 2019–December 6, 2019
    Clark Atlanta University Art Museum
  • January 17, 2020–May 10, 2020
    Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.
In 1952, while a student at La Esmeralda—Mexico’s national school of art—American artist John Wilson (1922–2015) painted a powerful mural that he titled The Incident. The fresco depicted a scene of a racial-terror lynching at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, as witnessed by a young African American family. Although the mural is no longer extant, this exhibition brings together publicly for the first time nearly all of Wilson’s known preparatory sketches and painted studies for it, as well as related prints and drawings. Inspired by the political and social activism of the Mexican muralists, in particular José Clemente Orozco, and haunted by images of lynchings that he had seen in newspapers as a child, Wilson revisited the subject of The Incident over many years as a way of grappling with racial violence, both past and present. The works on view, some disturbing in content, encourage contemporary viewers to do the same.
Exhibition made possible by the Isabel B. Wilson Memorial Fund. Organized by Pamela Franks, Class of 1956 Director, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Mass., and former Senior Deputy Director and Seymour H. Knox, Jr., Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Yale University Art Gallery, and Elisabeth Hodermarsky, the Sutphin Family Senior Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings, Yale University Art Gallery.

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