Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted in Resource Library on October 2, 2008 with permission of the author and the Hudson River Museum. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, or wish to obtain a copy of the exhibition catalogue from which it is excerpted, please contact the Hudson River Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:


Whitfield Lovell: All Things in Time

by Bartholomew F. Bland


Whitfield Lovell is one of the leading artistic interpreters of lost and contested African American history in this country. His distinctive artistic perspective is primarily focused on and inspired by the period in American history between post-Civil War Reconstruction and the late 1940s -- the decade preceding the birth of the modern Civil Rights Movement. Lovell sees this extended historical period as having been insufficiently explored by contemporary African American artists, many of whom have been largely focused on the history and ramifications of slavery or questions of post-1960s Black consciousness. His work, infused with the nation's history, serves to conjure and restore a past frequently obscured. In doing so, Lovell's considerable artistry is harnessed to reclaim the stories and greater historical truths of the United States' rich African American heritage.

In concert with his interest in excavating history, Lovell is also a master of the found object, drawing favorable comparisons with such assemblage artists as Joseph Cornell. This talent for recognizing the beauty of the everyday in the shape, scale, form and texture of found objects is combined with his mastery of academic drawing, and the great fluidity of his technique, both of which withstand comparison with the drawings of nineteenth-century French artists, such as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Lovell's charcoal drawings are based on historical photographs of (frequently unknown) African Americans, drawings that he finds at antique stores and flea markets along with his vintage found objects. As the artist says, "I'm mostly interested in the people and the imagery, so that my drawings are more in service to the imagery than being about 'drawing.'" [1]

Most of the photographs that Lovell uses as the basis of his work are studio portraits of sitters presenting themselves to the world with a sense of awareness of how they will be portrayed. In this sense the figures in Lovell's work have a degree of autonomy in their depiction. Lovell has been wary of the dangers of bravura technique: "Too much skill in the hands of those who don't know what to do with it is a dangerous thing for an artist . . . while I was in school at Cooper Union, I put technique aside and concentrated on the content of what I wanted to say as an artist. It has only been in the last seven or eight years that I have been able to come back to drawing realistically and fully embrace it again." [2]

Lovell's command of the figure has strong precedent among African American artists of the second half of the twentieth century. As one critic has pointed out, the strong and continuing emphasis on a figurative tradition as an important thread in African American art cannot be explained as stylistic conservatism in work by artists such a Lovell. Instead, African American artists have been inspired to create a new historical perception in order to dispel earlier stereotypes and caricatures. [3] Although Lovell's style has matured and evolved, much of the sense of the haunted or mystical remains in his work. His ability to evoke chords of memory in the imagination is unparalleled.

The artist's great strength is his eye for how these seemingly disparate elements can come together in an aesthetically satisfying composition. A visit to the artist's studio reveals an amazing, almost Gothic cabinet of curiosities: taxidermy, globes, radios, gramophones, textiles, ceramics, wood planks, and photographs are all piled in array and that demonstrate the artist's love of the beauty and craftsmanship found in the objects of everyday life, rapidly disappearing in an era of Big Box stores. Often worn from long use, these found objects have acquired a patina of historical authenticity, which is a testament to preservation, perseverance, and continuity. This question of authenticity is central to Lovell's work and the artist. "Usually items I use will have a distressed finish -- I love beautiful dull patinas. It is very hard to capture signs of age in a truthful manner. Lately there has been a vogue for "antiqued" furniture using a yellowed varnish -- and it always looks fake." [4]

For his large-scale tableaux, Lovell frequently incorporates rescued wood paneling, often from barns, mottled with remnants of paint or scraps of wallpaper. The boards, scarred with the patina of age, have a renewed life as "canvases" for Lovell's charcoal portraits. He gives careful thought to presenting an image, never tracing or projecting it onto its wooden canvas. Instead, freehand, Lovell realizes his drawings, often on a monumental scale. The portrait complete, Lovell adds found objects in an intuitive process that varies from piece to piece to create a three-dimensional work in which his figure's dress, posture, and facial expression project an even deeper meaning through his artistry. Gently lit, Lovell's tableaux create an almost religious evocation as a figure or a face emerges, then retreats. Lovell's tableaux have historical precedent, being his interpretation of what was originally the popular pastime of creating "living pictures" in the nineteenth 19th century, presented on stage by silent and motionless costumed participants.

The range of items attached is wide and each provides a distinct commentary on the portrait of which it is part. The combinations are largely intuitive on the part of the artist. Objects may reflect the imagined history of the sitter, provide a dramatic foil or an unexpected juxtaposition, or function as interesting formal elements of shape and scale. In each of his works, Lovell imbues multiple meanings that encourage the viewer to bring his or her own experiences and associations to the work.

A quintessential example of Lovell's use of the object is You're My Thrill, 2004, where he captures the glamour of society reluctantly, but undeniably, associated with youthful danger. The title references the song written by Jay Gorney and Sidney Clare and popularized by Billie Holiday among other artists, a song which Lovell has always found intensely compelling. [5] The figure's suave matinee idol features conjure a glamorously dangerous persona, intensified by his insouciant stance, which makes him look like one half of a Bonnie and Clyde-esque couple. One critic has noted that the glittering shell casings arrayed in front of the figure resemble the devotional candles traditionally positioned before a religious icon, suggesting that we worship now at an altar of secular sex and violence. [6]

There are also distinct period overtones, which reference African American participation in the military (although the figure's stance is not as formal as those of Lovell's soldiers), the historical antecedents of contemporary hip hop culture. There is also a distinctive phallic quality to both the man's gun and the metal shell casings that surround him. For a work imbued with such macho swagger, it is notable that Lovell has designed the piece on a comparatively diminutive scale compared with many of the other more formal figures that appear in his tableaux. The piece sits on the floor at waist height positioning this domineering figure to be literally looked down upon by the viewer. Lovell does not accord this figure the full measure of respect of meeting the viewer face-to-face as he does with many others. At the same time, Lovell acknowledges the man's attractions, noting "there is always something sexy about confidence, and the power to blow things up is considered sexy and typically male." [7]

Battleground, 2001, is a beautifully rendered tableau of an African American solider serving in the Union Army in the Civil War. It memorializes the many African American men who served in the Civil War: over 150,000 African American men served in the Union Army, with far fewer serving the Confederacy. Battleground is part of a larger project entitled Visitation: The Richmond Project that was created at the Hand Workshop Art Center in Virginia. Other pieces from the series on view in the current exhibition are Our Best and Restoreth. In Battleground, the soldier's youthful face is both proud and quietly optimistic as he looks clearly into the future. Although the work is called Battleground, the solider is alone in a stance more befitting a parade. This work may reference the internal battleground of a solider who survives the horrors of war. Alternatively, the soldier's stoic and solitary stance may indicate the private suffering of a solider at war among many, but alone. The sphere of the small cannon ball positioned on the floor appears surprisingly unthreatening, as though it had rolled into the composition like a bowling ball, but it poetically echoes the shape of the soldier's buttons and of the large round buckle over the soldier's heart. The Eastlake table and the book it holds underscore the themes of bravery and noble sacrifice.

In contrast to the fully formed manhood of Battleground, The Day Before Yesterday, 2001 shows the face of a young boy, presented as an innocent. Lovell notes the piece is inspired by his own experiences and attraction to dolls as an adolescent. [8] The arrangement of the boards means the boy's face is literally split down the center, bisecting him into two halves that may speak of a divided nature. Number and symbols play an important role in Lovell's work and a faint pencil mark of the number "13" just above the boy's head seems to signal an unlucky connotation. The found doll-bodies included in the tableau demonstrate a range of race, sex, and body type, suggesting a fluidity of identification and attraction. The figures face both toward and away from the viewer and all but one is headless. This very youthful "baby" doll figure is white (or more accurately pink) and makes an interesting formal contrast with the central charcoal portrait. The headless state of the adolescent and adult dolls seems to reflect reluctance on the part of the young boy to fully identify with adulthood.

The Day Before Yesterday is an excellent example of the unexpected contrasts Lovell is capable of creating between the gender of his figures and the found objects with which they are depicted. As the artist notes, "Boys are not encouraged to play with dolls, and a boy pictured with a doll creates the impression of certain vulnerability that would not exist if he were shown with a toy gun or combat set."[9] Lovell repeatedly presents the viewer with unexpected reversals of gender expectations. Several of his works have included female figures juxtaposed with boxing gloves. Lovell shows boxing gloves with women to avoid having his work being taken too literally. "Showing boxing gloves with a woman symbolizes toughness, strength, and perseverance and gets the viewer asking questions. If they were hanging with a man's portrait, many viewers would think 'Oh, that man is a boxer.' " [10]

Cada Dia (Each Day), 2004 is a fine example of Lovell's portrayal of feminine strength. The female figure turns her head as if to address the viewer. The wide collar of her costume is somewhat androgynous and reminiscent of fashions popular in the late 1920s or early 1930s, and her jaunty, wide-brimmed hat is almost cowboy-esque. Compared to the more fragile femininity depicted in such works as Temptation, the woman's attire is heavy and masculine. Her thick eyebrows and bold glance signal a fashionable but assertive personality. As with You're My Thrill, she is presented in half length and positioned so that the viewer is looking down towards her face. The heavy, almost rugged lines of the chair complement the heaviness of her costume and her features. In her assertiveness, she represents a variation on the idea of the "New Woman," not only with the traditional strength of women exhibited in other Lovell works, but also with a degree of modernity and independence.

With a more delicate air, In Silence, 2003 shows a woman in a high-necked blouse, in three-quarter profile with her hair piled high on her head. Attached to the base of this rondel is a small doll bed covered in blue gingham. The contrast calls forth the image of fragile Victorian woman and so-called "fainting couches." It also suggests Freudian psychoanalysis and yet the title undercuts active speech or self-expression. The small scale of the piece and the tiny domestic bed recall the trapped heroine of Ibsen's A Doll's House, and also suggests a kind of memorial. An empty chair signifying loss is a recurring theme in both Lovell's work and much nineteenth-century funereal sculpture. The viewer is left to wonder if the work is a portrait of the deceased (another popular nineteenth-century photographic convention), a mother who has lost her child, or if the woman in portrait, herself, is dead. Then again, it may be a plaintive cry for vanished childhood.

In Bringer, 1999 the matronly figure appears as though she is "bringing forth" the truth or light. Literally shown with glass lamps, she appears to be waiting for someone or leaving a light on for the arrival of a loved one. The round table and seat of the chair complement Lovell's depiction of the figure's form. Furniture in this work is comparatively modest compared to the velvet chairs in Ode, 1999, and evoke rural kitchen furniture or a modest lived-in home. Ode depicts a well- dressed young man standing beside an empty chair, much like one that would have been conventionally filled by a mother or wife in the portraitist's studio. Both of the found object chairs are elaborate pieces of furniture that are badly neglected, and the overall impression is that of faded grandeur from the Gilded Age. As in Cada Dia and In Silence, the device of the unfilled seat serves to underscore a sense of loss.

In Twine, 2001 a man well dressed in a frock coat floats in the center of the wood panel surrounded by heavy rope. Somewhat ironic, this title, Twine, usually suggests thin, innocuous thread. In this tableau though, the "twine" is an ominous heavy rope. The historical association of lynching African American men in the South during the late nineteenth century is overt, but Lovell, with his trademark ambiguity, does not present a literal noose. Instead, the rope sinuously frames the elegant and affluent looking man, threatening to "entwine" him. Despite the size and position of the full length man on the panel, the man's legs have literally been taken out from under him. He remains dignified and serene despite the threatening cues from the rest of the work. In his compositions, Lovell meticulously plans out how the imperfection, marks, knots, and variation in color in his wood panels will be incorporated into his finished works. In Twine, a sun-bleached section of wood points down to the face of the man like a ray of divine light.

Wreath, 2000 is another title with a double meaning, suggesting both celebration and memorial. Here, the work is quietly regretful. Unlike the ominous implications to the figure of Twine, the figure in Wreath seems to already have suffered his fate. The piece is a reminder of violence and sacrifice in a quiet, somber composition that is nonetheless shocking. The young man is simultaneously memorialized and imprisoned by a barbed wire nimbus, evoking Christ's crown of thorns.

Where Destiny and Battleground demonstrate expected relationships of the military and masculinity with guns, and Wreath and Twine suggest overt personal danger, the female figure in Eclipse, 2004 is presented more ambiguously as an example of strength or victimization. The woman's pose is formal, suggesting a studio-portraiture sitting from which Lovell frequently draws his imagery. While her face does not convey a sense of danger, the rifle pierces the woman's chest and her lip is disfigured by a reddish imperfection in the board which creates the illusion that she may have been struck. The piece is meant to be seen in the round, where it becomes clear that her portrait is balanced against a representation of a large military- style drum. The composition of the work also adds to the ambiguity, for it is the weight of the rifle acting as a lever that keeps the composition in balance and prevents it from toppling over.

All Things in Time, 2001 with its large circular spinning wheel, suggests the intense and length labor of cloth production in rural African American women's lives. The round shape of the wheel provides a dramatic foil of the squared-off geometry of the rectangular board backdrop, breaking the "frame" of the tableau. The spinning wheel has a number of interpretations, becoming a fetishized object in white women's Colonial Revival parlors, a symbol of genteel Mayflower descendents, divorced from the actual heavy rigors of textile production. However, the stately woman depicted here knows the value of her work. Lovell uses the distinct round shape of the wheel, which in its form suggests an artist's "color" wheel drained of its bright pigments. Lovell is drawn towards old wood coated with the color and patina of old paint pigments, although he never applies new color to his wooden surfaces.

Lovell first began experimenting with the format that eventually evolved into Train, 2001, while working on Visitation: The Richmond Project. These individual works used foundry molds to create round portraits, which he referred to as "coins," suggesting, "long-lost and devalued currency finally finding a home." [11] The great northward migration of African Americans in the late nineteenth century, referenced in Train, has a sobering parallel in the artist's own life. Many of his older male relations migrated from rural South Carolina to New Jersey in search of a better life. There they found higher paying industrial jobs, but also toxic work environments that eventually contributed to their untimely deaths. [12]

Unlike most of Lovell's figures, Bretheren, 2000 depicts a man in profile, suggesting a dignified Roman portrait style frequently associated with sanctioned representations of important figures appearing on coins or public buildings. The distressed surface of the supporting boards has resulted in a surface of multiple colors and textures. The artist notes that the support for this piece was taken from a farmhouse which had been wallpapered, and the wallpaper had at some point been removed and painted over, creating an unusual surface reminiscent of a Roman fresco.[13] The knife in the tableau represents a violent act and may lead to the viewer to wonder "Is this Brutus or Caesar?" The title is simultaneously suggestive of members of a religious order and of the frequently referenced "brotherhood" of African American men. Eight Rock, 1999 is a more obvious example of African American brotherhood. The men are formal, standing side by side in suits, arms just touching, and the poles in front of them are like sentries mimicking their stance, but also work as a kind of barrier to the viewer, keeping him or her at a distance.

Still, 1999 is a formal portrait of a man and woman together. The pots that surround them on the floor suggest domesticity or small-scale manufacturing of some type, and the title suggests both the production of spirits and the enduring nature of the couple's relationship. As with Twine, Lovell planned this work around existing imperfections in the wood panel supports. A knot rests in the man's folded hands and a nail protrudes not far from the woman's nose, while the heavily abraded nature of the paint made application of the drawing difficult. [14]

Lovell has long had an interest in music and in projecting devices like gramophones and radios, and he has incorporated soft murmuring sound effects into a number of his installation pieces. In Destiny, 2006 however, the music from the radio speaker is silenced, the fabric torn. The couple in Lovell's drawing lean in appreciatively, drawing closer and clasping each other more intimately than many of the figures drawn from studio portraiture taken between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The distressed surface of the work where Lovell placed his figures is more extreme than that in many other works: his figures threaten to fade, peel and float off into the atmosphere like disappearing sound waves. The ethereal and inherently temporary nature of sound, which may leave behind a powerful echo, is complementary to Lovell's installations. The cabinet and hanging dish rag evoke an atmosphere of the kitchen, where, in the days before television, the radio reigned supreme as the chief medium for music, news, and entertainment. One is reminded of Harold Arlen's Suppertime, set in the kitchen as the wife prepares dinner for a husband who will never return home.

Patience, 2004 also evokes music, or the lack thereof. The woman's costume is early, almost Victorian in nature, suggesting a period prior to the mass-produced manufacture of the radio. But Lovell is ever attuned to complementary forms and styles. While the lady and her radio may be from slightly different eras, the gothic styling of the radio makes it a happy accompaniment to the figure. In contrast to the fading figures of Destiny, the woman here, although shown on distressed boards, is solid and statuesque. She is in no danger of fading, and she and her radio both appear formal, confident, and comfortably bourgeois. As Lovell notes, "I like the radios for the sculptural as well as the practical function they may have. They're almost streamlined - much like totems, and using them allows me to play with the ideas for recorded sound." [15]

Lovell's strong interest in music and the objects used to create it have resulted in several powerful pieces. In Call, 2001 the artist draws the eye to a gramophone horn with the grace of a swan, and makes the viewer see a utilitarian object as sculpture. Lovell notes, "It really bothers me that objects that are so ordinary and have so much character are just lost on people, and treated like garbage. Character is imbued by daily use." Lovell's intuition of form is in evidence in the selection of the man's face to accompany the florid shape of the horn. There is a certain solid feeling to the sculptural roundness almost like an Olympic head.

Lovell has always been most inspired by the music recorded in the decades before he was born. "As a teenager I would listen to old records and I thought, 'This is tried and true -- it's classic.' I often wonder if artists frequently try and channel the previous generation. I was speaking recently with some young African American artists and they are so interested in the 1960s and 70s -- the Ebony magazine era -- and I thought about what intrigues us -- which is the world that came just before you were born, and which is so hard to really know." [16]

An era firmly fixed in the general public's mind as a time of decadence is the 1920s. Temptation, 2000 suggests Eve as the quintessential "It" girl. Her clothing is modern and reminiscent of the flapper style, and her uncovered arms and legs would have been considered decidedly risqué in a time of Great Migration from the agrarian South to the urban centers of the North. She represents the vivacity of youth as well as the modern temptations of readily available jazz, sex, and liquor. Yet Lovell does not place her against a sleek and gleaming background. Her distressed wooden "canvas" and empty picture frames suggest the losses of the past, while the figure's bold features look firmly toward the future.

While Lovell equates temptation with a certain form of modernity, Salvation, 2001 indicates that the road to redemption lies in erudition and knowledge. The woman in the piece may be reading a religious text or morally uplifting tale, but her library shelf is more diverse and includes books with such varied titles as Blake's Poems and Prophesies, In the Hudson Highlands and, of course, Salvation. Her hair and prim high- necked attire suggest a bluestocking, a late nineteenth-century nickname for an intellectual woman, perhaps earning income as a school teacher and not necessarily looking for salvation through marriage or men.

Pedigree, 2004 and Restoreth, 2001 make an interesting contrast in the theme of independent women. In Pedigree, the smaller of the two tableaux, Lovell presents a younger woman with solemn features. The liquor bottles in Pedigree suggest not salvation but the danger of turning to alcohol. The sober, even angry, expression on the woman's face defines the unhappiness of a woman who has been disappointed by life. In Pedigree Lovell uses gender to create contrasts and parallels between his figures and objects. Given the era of Lovell's interest, one might anticipate seeing a male figure surrounded by hard liquor bottles, but the title of the work and its overtones of gentility present a stark contrast with the disappointment of the woman. In Lovell's work the figures are usually solemn, and he has commented that "Smiling is difficult -- it is distortion of the face, and I often get rid of a smile in the final picture/image from the original." [17]

In Restoreth the figure of the matriarchal African American highlights the historical tradition of woman as a provider of folk medicine. Although seated and momentarily at rest, is not at leisure, as are the figures in Our Best. Her costume suggests that the source material that inspired Lovell was amongst the earliest of the materials with which he has worked. The title refers not only to the restorative properties of medicine, but to the archaic language that conjures the "Restoreth my Soul" passage of the Twenty-Third Psalm, which appears several times on Lovell's work.

Our Best, 2001 includes a dozen figures on multiple panels. The tableau, which shows a sound component, is meant to suggest a picnic in which the figures turn out in their "Sunday best." The viewer is reminded of Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party, but, in contrast to that artist's casual depiction of working people in shirtsleeves, Lovell's characters are uniformly decorous and the figures meet the viewer's gaze head on. The installation includes two boxes of pennies, interesting in their association to commerce and to Lincoln's head on the penny incorporates his keyrole in the emancipation that led to the development of a growing African American middle class. Here, money literally symbolizes independence. The five incorporated wagon wheels provide geometric interest to the paneled boards in much the same fashion as the spinning wheel in All Things in Time and represent transportation and the freedom to come and go as one pleases, all concrete evidence of life after emancipation.

In Salt, 2004 a man is depicted behind a grand silver Victorian salt cellar. Traditionally salt is a substance that is a necessary, even precious commodity not to be wasted. Salt has been used by the superstitious to ward off evil spirits or bring good luck. Perhaps this man is meant to be understood as someone who is well cared for, protected and 'worth his salt'. Lovell again uses silver to dramatic effect in Everything, 2004, which shows a handsome head-and-shoulders portrait of a young man surrounded by a half-dozen gleaming goblets that suggest a collection of family heirlooms. Lovell specified that the work be presented "all in" to highlight both the simmering color of light reflected by silver as well as the patina that becomes part of the piece over time, much like the dusty bits of silver passed on as heirlooms from generation-to-generation in many families. The figure in Everything has a seductive quality that is ambiguous. As Lovell has said, "at various points I have been tempted to suggest issues of sexual preference or gender ambiguity by the use of certain objects that might allude to such things. Some objects, flowers for example, can sometimes bring out a feminine quality in a man. But I always try to be careful not to take too many liberties with the images I'm using unless the implication is already there in the photo. It is a big responsibility using other people's images. . .I want to be respectful." [18]

Lovell's Round series, 2006-2007 of twenty-four drawings on paper allows the viewer to gain a full appreciation of the mastery of his technique and showcases a degree of polish not possible to achieve on the large-scale rough-hewn boards he uses in his tableaux. Unlike these materials, Lovell does not use vintage materials for the support of his drawings, wary of their ability to withstand the rigors of time, but instead chooses a soft cream-colored paper that evokes the gently aged. Each drawing incorporates a round vintage playing card and Lovell has spent time looking at each finished portrait and intuitively selecting the right card with which to pair it. Lovell notes how different are the shapes in each suite and respects the way the numbers and faces on the cards shape the patterns. "The colors of red and black suggest different things. Red catches the eyes -- and the suits carry different connotations. I've had collectors say that they want hearts -- to be lucky in love. Spades, of course, can carry a racial connotation."[19]

Lovell ponders whether there is a loosely defined African American art movement inspired by the incorporation vintage photography into the work of such artists as Lorna Simpson, Albert Chong, and Radcliffe Bailey, among others. [20] However, like the random found object Lovell embraces, all artistic movements have elements of coincidence that may prove fleeting. Part of a coalescing movement or not, Lovell's work is unique. His ability to define and develop a distinct artistic point of view increases over time, demonstrating his growing power and sophistication as an artist. In a society relentlessly focused on the here and now, Lovell's art reminds us that the past does matter. [21]


1 John Yau, "In Conversation, Whitfield Lovell with John Hau," Brooklyn Rail, Critical Perspectives on
Arts, Politics and Culture (July/August 2006), http://www.brooklynrail.org/2006/07/art/whitfield-lovell.
2 Whitfield Lovell, oral interview at the artist's studio with the author, July 11, 2008.
3 Debra Spencer, Revisiting American Art: Works from the Collections of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (Katonah Museum of Art, 1997), 3.
4 Lovell interview, July 11, 2008.
5 ibid.
6 Kristen Swenson, "Whitfield Lovell at DC Moore," Art in America (September 2006).
7 Lovell interview, July 11, 2008.
8 ibid.
9 ibid.
10 ibid.
11 Dominque Nahas, Whitfield Lovell: Embers (DC Moore, 2002), 9.
12 Yau, "In Conversation,"
13 Lovell interview, July 11, 2008.
14 Dominick Lombardi., "Portraying the Past and the Present," The New York Times, June 4, 2000.
15 Lovell interview, July 11, 2008.
16 ibid.
17 ibid.
18 ibid.
19 ibid.
20 ibid
21 The author would like to thank A.J. Minogue, Penelope Fritzer, and Linda Locke for their much appreciated editorial assistance in the development of this essay.


About the author

Bartholomew F. Bland is Curator of Exhibitions at The Hudson River Museum


About the exhibition

Whitfield Lovell is being presented September 27, 2008 through May 10, 2009 at the Hudson River Museum as a large-scale survey exhibition showcasing the work of one of the contemporary art world's finest interpreters of lost or contested history. Born in the Bronx in 1959, Lovell has become internationally recognized for his large-scale tableaux and room-sized installations that combine evocative found historical objects with exquisitely rendered life-sized charcoal portraits, frequently based on historic photographs. These elements are combined to strikingly picturesque effect and create a dramatic situation or "scene" which is left to the viewer to interpret. (right: Whitfield Lovell, Cada Dia, 2004, Charcoal on wood, chair, 46 x 35 x 20 inches. Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York )

Lovell finds the raw materials for his art in tag sales, flea markets, and architectural salvage yards. His work focuses on the lives of African Americans in the United States from the span of Reconstruction through World War II, and his work subtly suggests this period's intense societal and political changes. Many of the photographs that inspire Lovell's art are of anonymous individuals, the biographical details of their lives lost to time. The imaginary narratives that Lovell constructs gives them a sense of agency and provides arresting contrasts, which attest to the artist's great creativity in transforming everyday objects into powerful commentary on society.

The Hudson River Museum is ideally suited to showcase this exhibition of Lovell's work. The museum has a particularly strong history of organizing multi-disciplinary exhibitions that incorporate both contemporary and historic objects to illustrate and illuminate historical ideas. This exhibition provides the museum an opportunity to interpret both Lovell's connections to other contemporary artists and the historical aspects of his subject matter. The exhibition explores Lovell's use of assemblage and find his inspiration by such artists as Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg and George Segal (who are all highlights of the museum's permanent collection). The exhibition also showcases Lovell's distinguished gifts as a draftsman and the great who have inspired him, such as Jean-Auguste Ingres. (left: Whitfield Lovell, Twine, 2001, Charcoal on wood, rope, 83 1/2 x 49 inches. Collection of Palmer Museum of Art of The Pennsylvania State University)

The exhibition also examines history's connection to place and will permit the museum to further explore the late nineteenth and early twentieth century history of the African American community in Yonkers, a process which began with the museum's exhibition The Great Migration: Stories from the South to the North.

The exhibition, which includes loans from museums, private collections, and the artist, is accompanied by a 50-page full-color catalogue with an essay by exhibition curator Bartholomew F. Bland and an introduction by Lowery Stokes Sims, curator at New York City's Museum of Art and Design.


Checklist for the exhibition

All Things in Time, 2001
Charcoal and gouache on wood, found objects, 81 x 56 1/2 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Bretheren, 2000
Charcoal and collage on wood, knife
26 x 24 1/2 inches
Collection of Vincent and Pilar Pita, New Jersey
Bringer, 1999
Charcoal on wood, found objects
96 x 61 x 40 inches
Collection Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York.
Museum purchase with funds provided by the Friends of the Neuberger Museum of Art
Cada Dia, 2004
Charcoal on wood, chair, 46 x 35 x 20 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Call, 2001
Charcoal on wood, found objects, 24 x 20 x 15 inches
Collection of Reginald J. Hollinger and Paula A. Tuffin, New Jersey
The Day Before Yesterday, 2001
Charcoal on wood, found objects, 19 x 18 1/2 x 7 inches
Collection of Reginald J. Hollinger and Paula A. Tuffin, New Jersey
Destiny, 2006
Charcoal on painted wood panel, cabinet, enamel cups, audio speaker, rags, 76 x 30 1/4 x 11 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Eclipse, 2004
Charcoal on wood, drum, rifle, 41 x 41 x 51 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Eight Rock, 1999
Charcoal on wood, found objects, 98 x 70 x 21 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Everything, 2004
Charcoal on wood, found objects, 25 1/2 x 14 1/4 x 13 inches
Private Collection, courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
In Silence, 2003
Charcoal on wood, doll bed
26 1/2 x 26 1/2 x 8 inches
Collection of Reginald J. Hollinger and Paula A. Tuffin, New Jersey
Ode, 1999
Charcoal and mixed media on wood, chairs, 117 x 72 x 59 inches
Collection Yale University Art Gallery, Katharine Ordway Fund
Patience, 2004
Charcoal on wood, radio, 56 x 35 x 20 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Pedigree, 2004
Charcoal on wood, liquor bottles, 46 1/2 x 29 1/4 x 12 1/2 inches
Collection of Vincent and Pilar Pita, New Jersey
Psalm II, 2000
Charcoal on wood, bible
34 1/2 x 22 inches
Collection of Virgil and Jennifer Simons, New Jersey
Round I, 2006
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round II, 2006
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round III, 2006
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round IV, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round V, 2006
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round VI, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round VII, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round VIII, 2006
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round IX, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round X, 2006
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XI, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XII, 2006
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XIII, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XIV, 2006
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XV, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XVI, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XVII, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XVIII, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XX, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XXI, 2006
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XXII, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XXIII, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XXIV, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Round XXV, 2007
Charcoal pencil on cream wove paper, playing card, 12 x 9 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
image is reversed
Salt, 2004
Charcoal on wood, found object, salt, 26 3/4 x 17 1/4 x 7 inches
Private Collection, courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Salvation, 2001
Charcoal on wood, found objects
39 x 30 x 7 1/2 inches
Collection of Donald and Patricia Oresman, New York
Servilis, 2006
Conte on wood, pedestals, stuffed bird replicas, 116 1/4 x 116 3/4 x 46 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Still, 1999
Charcoal on wood, found objects
96 x 68 x 48 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Temptation, 2000
Charcoal on wood, found objects
101 x 69 3/4 x 36 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Train, 2006
Charcoal on wooden foundry molds, 24 x 89 1/2 inches
Private Collection
Twine, 2001
Charcoal on wood, rope
83 1/2 x 49 inches
Collection of Palmer Museum of Art of The Pennsylvania State University
Visitation: The Richmond Project
Battleground, 2001
Charcoal on wood, found objects 97 1/2 x 71 x 15 1/2 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Visitation: The Richmond Project
Restoreth, 2001
Charcoal on wood, found objects,
82 x 50 x 8 1/2 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
Wreath, 2000
Charcoal on wood, barbed wire, 23 x 23 x 6 1/2 inches
Collection Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York. Purchase, 2001.2.1
You're My Thrill, 2004
Charcoal on wood, bomb shell casings, 54 x 36 1/2 x 14 inches
Courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York


Resource Library editor's note

The above exhibition catalogue text was reprinted in Resource Library on October 2, 2008, with permission granted to TFAO on September 23, 2008 by the author and the Hudson River Museum.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Laura Vookles, Chief Curator of Collections of the Hudson River Museum, for her help concerning the above texts.

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