The most comprehensive exhibition to date of works by the renowned contemporary artist, Whitfield Lovell: Passages contemplates the ordinary lives and extraordinary journeys of the anonymous African American individuals Lovell depicts, while raising universal questions about identity, memory and America’s collective heritage.
Whitfield Lovell: Passages is organized by the American Federation of Arts in collaboration with the artist and is curated by Michèle Wije, PhD. This exhibition is presented at VMFA by Alexis Assam, Regenia A. Perry Assistant Curator of Global Contemporary Art.
Whitfield Lovell (American, born Bronx) is an artist who works across a variety of media. His exquisite drawings are inspired by photographs of unidentified African Americans taken between the Emancipation Proclamation and the civil rights movement. These subjects allow the artist to focus on the Black stories that have been lost throughout history.
Lovell creates vivid assemblages imbued with metaphorical associations by pairing his drawings, on paper or on salvaged wood, with found objects. These works are sometimes presented as enigmatic stand-alone tableaux, rich with symbolism and ambiguity. Visitors to the exhibition will be entranced by the assemblages in the artist’s acclaimed Kin series (2008–2011) and two more recent series, The Reds (2021) and Card Pieces (2018–2022).
Lovell further pushes the boundaries of the visitor experience when he incorporates his assemblage works into immersive installations. Two such works, Deep River (2013) and Visitation: The Richmond Project (2001), begin and end the exhibition experience.
The multisensory installation Deep River is a monumental work composed of video projections, sound and everyday objects. Documenting the perilous journey freedom seekers took by crossing the Tennessee River during the Civil War, the installation addresses that struggle for freedom and its inherent themes of abandonment, death, life and hope. Through Deep River, Lovell further invites viewers to contemplate the larger human quest for equality and the pursuit of a better life — themes that transcend time and geography.
Visitation: The Richmond Project is a profound homage to Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood. The installation includes locally sourced objects that the artist collected with the help of Virginia Commonwealth University students. Through this moving installation, Lovell pays tribute to the lives, names and faces that were the people of Jackson Ward, giving the country’s first major African American entrepreneurial community its rightful place in the history of this nation.
“Visitors to Whitfield Lovell: Passages will find the exhibition powerful and compelling,” said Assam. “The exhibition transports visitors through time, moved by the resonant collective memory of the shared African American experience.”
from the exhibition text