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July 3 - September 12, 2004


When the past comes back to haunt us, we can close our minds-or delve deeper. Whitfield Lovell not only faces his ghosts head-on but encourages viewers to do likewise. -- Janet Kutner, art critic, Dallas Morning News


The San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) presents Whispers from the Walls: The Art of Whitfield Lovell, on view July 3 through September 12, 2004 in the Cowden Gallery. This exhibition is a poignant and highly evocative installation piece that mixes found objects, photographs, wall drawings and sound to create a sensory experience of African American life in the South during the 1920s.



Deceptively simple on the surface, the work is a complex amalgam, steeped in concepts of presence, absence, memory, identity, history and loss. The centerpiece of the installation is a one-room shack (see above image) surrounded by a profusion of tattered clothing. The inside of the house is filled with personal effects-pots and pans, tables and chairs, jewelry, clothing and life-size charcoal drawings of human figures. These masterfully drawn figures give the piece a strong human presence as their haunting, silent imminence speaks to us in whispers, not shouts.

Lovell's exploration of African American life is further enhanced by added layers of sensory experience, from the scents of musty fabric and a half-filled decanter of whiskey, to the sounds of a 1920s blues tune emanating from an old record player. The effect is to make the viewer feel like an intruder in the present, and a visitor to the past.

According to University of North Texas Press:

Lovell's BFA is from the Cooper Union School of Art, and he has studied in Italy, France, and Spain. His works have been shown in the Bronx, Queens and Jersey City Museums, D. C. Moore Gallery, Greg Art Gallery, and Artists Space. His work has traveled in group exhibits to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and Project Row Houses in Houston, as well as to the Cuenca, Ecuador, and Havana, Cuba Bienales. The recipient of fellowship grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Awards in the Visual Arts and the Joan Mitchell, Penny McCall, and New York Foundations, Lovell lives in New York.

Clarence V. Reynolds, in a book review for "The Art of Whitfield Lovell: Whispers From the Walls," (With an essay by Lucy R. Lippard, Pomegranate Communications, Inc., April 2003. 128 pages with nearly 80 color and black-and-white drawings and photographs. Second edition with over 30 new images, in-depth interview with Whitfield Lovell, and updated exhibition list, chronology, biography, and index. ISBN: 0-7649-2447-8). states:

The exhibit Whispers From the Walls was started in Denton, Texas, and inspired by the African American community that thrived there from 1875 to 1924. Lovell, however, says he was drawn to paint on walls while visiting an Italian villa in 1993 that was owned by a slave trader: "Somehow the experience of being in the villa and knowing its history was so haunting that I could not work the way I was accustomed to working ... I wanted to leave some dignified images of black people in that space."
In this expanded and updated catalog, which was first published in 1999 and now accompanies a traveling exhibit, the reproduction of nearly 80 images relates Lovell's admiration for the folks and heritage that continues to inspire him. His works not only place his portraits in an historical context, but in a cultural one as well.

The Whispers from the Walls curator is Diana Block, Director, University of North Texas Art Gallery, Denton. Essayists include Lucy R. Lippard, art historian, Galisteo, New Mexico, and Jennifer Ellen Way, Ph.D., Professor of Art History, University of North Texas, Denton

Whispers from the Walls is made possible by a generous grant[1] from the National Endowment for the Arts and is organized by the University of North Texas Art Gallery, Denton and toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance[2].

The exhibition opened September 1, 2002, at The Contemporary Art Center of Virginia in Virginia Beach. It continued its tour to the Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council in Texarkana, Texas, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama, the Public Library of Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina, the California African-American Museum in Los Angeles, and Reed College in Portland, Oregon. The three-year tour ends in August of 2005. Whispers from the Walls most recently showed at Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery of Reed College from January 28 to March 3, 2004.



1. The Mid-America Arts Alliance received a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the exhibition tour of Whispers from the Walls. The grant is part of the NEA's "Challenge America" program, which provide access of this major work to museums of all sizes and characteristics throughout the country.

2. Mid-America Arts Alliance, founded in 1972, is a non-profit regional arts organization based in Kansas City, Missouri. It is governed by a board of directors drawn from its partner states of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. Major support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, participating state arts agencies, and leading foundations and corporations.

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