Whitfield Lovell: Passages urges viewers to contemplate the ordinary lives and extraordinary journeys of the African American experience, while raising universal questions about identity, memory, and America’s collective heritage. More than 80 evocative multisensory installations, conté crayon drawings, and assemblages comprise this most comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s work to date.
Born in the Bronx, Lovell, a 2007 MacArthur Fellowship recipient, creates exquisite drawings, finding inspiration in photographs of unidentified African Americans taken between the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil Rights Movement. He creates assemblages by pairing his drawings—on paper or salvaged wood boards—with found objects, many weathered by the passage of time. Some of Lovell’s assemblages appear in his larger installations, while others he presents as symbolic and enigmatic stand-alone tableaux. Works from his acclaimed Kin series evolve into his more recent productions, The Reds and Card Pieces.
Two of Lovell’s experiential installations, Deep River and Visitation: The Richmond Project, are brought together here for the first time. The monumental Deep River (2013) combines video projections, sound, drawings, and everyday objects. Documenting the perilous journey freedom seekers took by crossing the Tennessee River during the Civil War, Deep River addresses the struggle for freedom and its inherent themes of abandonment, death, life, and hope. At the same time, it invites viewers to consider the larger human quest for equality and the pursuit of a better life—matters that transcend time and geography. Visitation: The Richmond Project (2001) is a profound homage to the country’s first major Black entrepreneurial community. In this emotive installation, the artist pays tributes to the lives, names, and faces of the people of Jackson Ward in Richmond, Viriginia. Lovell explains, “the installations are about memory and heritage, and the markings that the past has made—and continues to make—on who we are.”