April 27 - June 23, 2006
Opening Reception Friday, April 28 from 6:00 to 8:00 pm
Whitfield Lovell’s fourth solo exhibition at DC Moore Gallery, and his first at the gallery since 2002, brings together three distinct bodies of recent work: freestanding tableaux constructed from charcoal drawings on vintage wood combined with found objects; portrait heads drawn on charcoal on round wooden moulds referred to as Coins; and a series of small paper collages called the Card Pieces, which combine charcoal drawn portrait heads with vintage playing cards.
In creating his tableaux, Lovell draws upon a personal archive of hundreds of studio photographs of anonymous African-Americans, most dating from the early years of the twentieth century. The tableaux developed out of a series of installations that he has created over the past decade. Lovell begins the process of developing the idea for each individual work by looking through these tintypes, cabinet cards, bubble-glass portraits, and postcards. Once an image captures his attention, it is drawn freehand in charcoal on old wood. Careful thought is given to the grain and texture of the wood as well as to any remnants of color from paint or wallpaper, making the background for each drawing as unique as the fingerprint of the person depicted. Found objects are then added in an intuitive process that varies from piece to piece to create three-dimensional tableaux, which literally thrust these unknown people from the past into the viewer’s space.
“In a noisy, distractible culture much absorbed with things boldly new, speaking softly of the past requires a certain quixotic determination, as well as clarity and passion,” critic Nancy Princenthal wrote of Lovell’s Whispers from the Walls installation. “Because the drawings derive from images produced in commercial studios, they are in a sense representations of self-portraits; they show the sitters as they wanted themselves seen…Lovell’s drawings…are records of dignity, however hard-won it maybe imagined to have been.”
Lovell’s Coins are individual charcoal portraits drawn on painted wooden moulds. Displayed both in groups and individually, hung on walls or carefully arranged on the floor, they have a dominant and evocative presence in the show. Of the Card Pieces Lovell has written, “There is an implication of destiny, of chance, of one’s lot in life. When creating them the most exciting part of the process occurs when I choose the card that best fits the drawn image.”
Lovell’s first installations, in a 19th century slave-trader’s mansion in Italy, in an abandoned 1930s row house in Houston, Texas, and in the former barracks of a 16th century Spanish fort in Havana, Cuba, recognized and utilized the ambiance of the existing historical spaces. Whispers From the Walls, Lovell’s fourth installation, was created during a residency at the University of North Texas Art Gallery in Denton during spring of 1999. Here, in a nondescript modern gallery space, Lovell created a small rectangular house built of salvaged boards with various colors of peeling paint. The floor of the gallery is covered with soil and old clothing, over which viewers walk to get to the house. Inside is a single room complete with furniture, clothing, personal and household objects, and sound. Life-size charcoal drawings on the walls suggest past residents who might have inhabited similar spaces. The exhibition received extensive critical acclaim and toured nationally since its inception, appearing at seventeen venues, including the Seattle Art Museum, New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem, and the San Antonio Museum of Art. Lovell’s most recent installations include: Visitation: The Richmond Project, which traveled to the University of Wyoming in Laramie, the Columbus Museum Uptown, Georgia and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia; SANCTUARY: The Great Dismal Swamp at the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia in Virginia Beach, VA and Grace: A Project by Whitfield Lovell at the Bronx Museum of the Arts in New York City.
Recent group exhibitions in which Lovell’s work has been featured include: African American Masters: Highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which originated at the New-York Historical Society and traveled to seven other museums across the country in 2003 to 2005; Modern Storytellers: Bearden, Birch, Lovell, Ringgold at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2003; and Black is a Color: African American Art at the Corcoran, which originated at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. in 2003 and travels to three other museums across the country through 2007.
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DC Moore Gallery specializes in contemporary and twentieth century art. The gallery is located on the eighth floor of 724 Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 to 5:30. For more information, for photographs, or to arrange a viewing, please call Sandra Paci at 212-247-2111.