Whitfield Lovell: Deep River

JEPSON CENTER August 15, 2014 - February 1, 2015

Deep River

Artist Whitfield Lovell is internationally renowned for his thought-provoking portraits and signature tableaux. In this exhibition, Lovell utilizes sculpture, video, drawing, sound, and music to create an environment that fully engages our senses and emotions. His art pays tribute to the lives of anonymous African Americans and is universal in its exploration of passage, memory, and the search for freedom.

DR_01Born in the Bronx, New York in 1959, Lovell was interested in art from a young age. As a teenager studying painting and sculpture in Spain, he experienced an epiphany during a visit to El Museo del Prado in Madrid. Lovell stated, “I knew I would go into some form of art, but I wasn’t sure which….But while I was standing in front of a Velázquez painting, I had an amazing spiritual experience. The painter had communicated with me through centuries and cultures, and I suddenly understood the role of the artist. I ran from room to room. Goya, El Greco, Reubens, and Picasso all began to speak out to me. Whatever they were doing in those rooms was what I wanted to do with my life.”

The large scale of the current 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.

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. Together, these elements create a haunting and mesmerizing passage.

DR_02The 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 (see below) 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 (see above). 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.

Whitfield Lovell’s artwork is filtered through his personal history and memories. His father constantly took candid and posed photos of family and friends. These family photos, combined with Lovell’s extensive travels throughout Europe, the Americas, and parts of Africa, inform much of the artist’s work. 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.”

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.



Jepson Center

DR_03Opening Celebration
August 14

5 pm
VIP Preview

Complimentary drinks for Contributing and Director’s Circle levels of membership.

6 pm 
Conversation with the Artist: Whitfield Lovell

Acclaimed artist and MacArthur Fellow Whitfield Lovell joins Telfair Director and CEO Lisa Grove onstage for a conversation about the Deep River exhibition, his artistic practice, and his approach to working with historical subject matter. Free and open to the public. Funding is provided by the City of Savannah.

7 pm

Includes light appetizers and cash bar for beer and wine. Live music by Claire Frazier.


Lovell_02Performance Blank Page Poetry – Words & Shadows “If Ever These Rivers Should Speak”
October 16 | 6 pm | Jepson Center

Telfair Presents a performance of poetic expressions of people and events related to the natural water systems that define Savannah geographically and historically. This performance will encompass spoken word, digitally projected text, drumming and dance. All of the performers are local and of various ages and, along with poetry, will represent a range of creative disciplines. Free admission to this program thanks to project funding from the City of Savannah.


Family Free Day! – Deep River
November 1 | 1-4 pm | Jepson Center

Families are invited to explore Whitfield Lovell’s earthy installations, participate in storytelling, create drawings on objects in the museum studios, and see demonstrations by local artists who incorporate historical themes in their work. Funding is provided by the City of Savannah and Georgia Power Foundation, Inc.


Free Day Weekend
November 1-3 | Jepson Center

Telfair presents three days of free admission to the Jepson Center and the Deep River exhibition thanks to project funding from the City of Savannah.


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Whitfield Lovell
Autour Du Monde, 2008
Conté on wood panels with globes
102 x 189 x 171 inches
Courtesy of the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York

Kin XLVI (Follie), 2011
Conté on paper, shooting gallery target
30 x 22 1/4 x 4 inches
Courtesy of the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York

Deep River (detail), 2013
56 wood discs, found objects, soil, video projections and sound
size variable
Courtesy of the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York