Telfair Museums Opens One-of-a-Kind Exhibit “Whitfield Lovell: Deep River”

Artist Whitfield Lovell
Artist Whitfield Lovell

“It’s dark and a bit cold. Sounds of chirping birds and flowing water fill the air. Then the smell of dank soil hits, and as your eyes adjust, the mournful resonance of the spiritual, Deep River, rises up and surrounds you. Projections of water, with sunlight twinkling and glancing, ebb and flow. At times they are hypnotic, at times psychedelic, always mesmerizing. This is Whitfield Lovell’s latest installation, “Deep River,” a deeply haunting, evocative, and poignant exploration of the flight to freedom that has challenged many throughout time.” *

Telfair Museums is pleased to announce “Whitfield Lovell: Deep River,” open August 15, 2014 to February 1, 2015 at the Jepson Center for the Arts on Telfair Square. Artist Whitfield Lovell is internationally renowned for this thought-provoking portraits and signature tableaux. In the exhibition, Lovell utilizes sculpture, video, drawing, sound, and music to create an environment that fully engages the viewer’s senses and emotions. His art pays tribute to the lives of anonymous African Americans and is universal in its discussion and exploration of passage, memory, and the search for freedom.

To celebrate the opening, Whitfield Lovell will participate in a conversation with Telfair Director and CEO Lisa Grove on August 14, 2014 at 6 pm in the Jepson Center’s Neises Auditorium. Lovell will discuss “Deep River,” his artistic practice, and his approach to working with historical subject matter.

The event is free and open to the public and includes a reception following the conversation. In 2007, Lovell was named a MacArthur Fellow. The prestigious fellowship, commonly referred to as the “genius grant,” is bestowed on “individuals who have shown exceptional creativity in their work and the promise to do more.” The large scale of the exhibition allows the viewer to experience three distinct and compelling aspects of the artist’s work, including examples of Lovell’s trademark tableaux, work from his “Kin” series, and the extraordinary “Deep River” installation.

“’Deep River’ is an experience unlike any other,” said Grove. “We are grateful to be able to offer this provocative, compelling exhibition to our community. I am anticipating a wide-ranging discussion with Whitfield Lovell on August 14 and encourage everyone to come down to the Jepson Center and help us celebrate the exhibition opening. Be among the first to explore ‘Deep River!’”

The multi-media “Deep River” installation converts a 2,500-square-foot gallery into a unique environment, which the viewer enters and experiences as a personal journey. The darkened space, which Lovell designed specifically for the Jepson Center, surrounds the viewer with projected images of a flowing river, as the sounds of chirping birds and the river’s rushing currents fill the air. The center of the gallery contains a massive mound of dirt, strewn with everyday objects seemingly abandoned by past inhabitants of the space. Dozens of reclaimed wooden discs, each containing a portrait of a single figure, surround the mound of dirt and populate the installation.

The exhibition also features tableaux that Lovell has produced since 2008. The artist creates these unique works by drawing life-sized charcoal portraits on wooden objects such as sections of walls, fences, or barrels. He juxtaposes these drawings with everyday found objects – including clocks, irons, frying pans, and bed frames. Tableaux such as Pago Pago and Autour du Monde feature uniformed soldiers, referencing the service of African Americans through two world wars for a country that still did not acknowledge their civil or human rights. Billie Holiday’s rendition of the song, “I Cover the Waterfront,” plays softly from Pago Pago. A collection of globes is placed in front of Autour du Monde, invoking both the adventure of travel and the dangers for soldiers of fighting abroad.

Also included in the exhibition are a number of mixed media drawings from Lovell’s ongoing “Kin” series. Each of the “Kin” works features a portrait along with a single object. The pairing of the two creates intriguing narratives that are left open for the viewer’s interpretation. The images come from mug shots, photo IDs, passport images, and photo booth shots that Lovell has collected.

Lovell’s work has appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions at national venues such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Whitfield Lovell: Deep River was organized by the Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee.

* Opening passage excerpted from “Curator’s Notes: Deep River” by Nandini Makrandi Jestice, Chief Curator, Hunter Museum of American Art.

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