Conjuring the Aural Past with Whitfield Lovell

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Whitfield Lovell, After an Afternoon, 2008. Radios with sound, 59 x 72 x 11 in. Courtesy DC Moore Gallery © Whitfield Lovell and DC Moore Gallery, New York

In After an Afternoon, Whitfield Lovell omits the human figure, instead conjuring the aural past with sounds emanating from 37 vintage radios, some with stopped clocks and all stacked to approximately human height. The radios play three tracks: Billie Holiday singing “Yesterdays” and “Strange Fruit,” a Walter Winchell WWII news broadcast, and an excerpt from the 1940s radio program The Beulah Show. The Beulah Show aired on the radio from the late 1940s into the early 1950s, when it was adapted for television. It was the first sitcom to feature an African American as the main character, though it was continually criticized for contributing to negative racial stereotypes. Marlin Hurt, a white man, originally provided the voice of the main character Beulah (along with other characters) until his death in 1946, when Hattie McDaniel took over the role. The recording used here features the voice of Amanda Randolph, who voiced Beulah from 1953–1954.

After an Afternoon conveys overlapping narratives from the privacy of the home to the turmoil of the warfront, drawing on the connection between sound and memory to evoke the racial climate of a pre-civil rights era.

Whitfield Lovell: The Kin Series and Related Works is on view through Jan. 8, 2017.

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

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Photographs by Sharon Core currently on view at the Phillips

My very first experience in a museum was, as far as I can remember, intimidating. I over-distanced myself from Auguste Rodin’s exquisite bronze sculptures for fear that I would fail to resist the impulse to touch them and get myself into trouble.

I felt a similar impulse when I ran into Sharon Core’s series of works in a second floor gallery at the Phillips today. Although the experience wasn’t intimidating this time, the temptation to touch the work was as hard to resist. This time, it wasn’t a sculpture; yet as solid and life-like. The photographs’ three-dimensional quality and tangibility tricked my eyes into thinking that what I saw was a real object.

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Sharon Core, Peaches and Blackberries, 2008. Chromogenic print, 13 1/2 x 17 1/2 x 1 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, 2015

I had to stare at the works for a while to decide whether these were photos or paintings; their subject, composition, and painterly quality instantly reminded me of still life paintings from the 19th century. As speculated, Core was inspired by the compositions of 19th century American still life painter Raphaelle Peale. By meticulously rendering details and emphasizing texture, Core overcomes the limitations of photography and captures features that would have been hard to see even in real life. In fact, the highly contrasting lights, vibrant coloration, and the lustrous texture of the objects are all pictorial elements that could have only been achieved through the labor-intensive process of assembling the materials and arranging the setting.

Across the room hangs a row of still life paintings by post-Impressionist artists. One of them is Paul Cézanne’s Glass and Apples, which is rather muted in tone with no striking tactile appeal. With the emergence and development of photography in his time, Cézanne would have found no point in creating a photo-realistic representation; rather, he was more concerned with capturing the very essence of painting and conveying his own perception of the subject.

Ironically enough, Core’s vibrantly colored, highly-staged photographs that imitate the style of still life painters predating Cézanne, hang right across from his rather simple composition.

As FotoWeek is approaching, come visit the Phillips and take a look into Core’s work that jumps across the boundary between painting and photography. What about Core’s prints is similar to Cézanne’s painting? What’s different?

Summer Park, Marketing & Communications Intern

“In the North they had the freedom to vote.”

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Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series, Panel no. 59: In the North they had the freedom to vote., 1940–41. Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1942 © The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series resonates today in many ways, but this Election Day it seems especially fitting to highlight Panel no. 59, whose caption reads: “In the North they had the freedom to vote.” Kinshasha Holman Conwill, Deputy Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, puts it well in her oral history recorded in 2015:

“I think as with a lot of great art [The Migration Series] will always have meaning. It will have meaning because it speaks to the human spirit, to human aspirations, to courage, to fear, to love, to family. But this specifically because people will always be on the move, people will always be looking for something better, and that will mean that his work will never lose its resonance for generations to come.”

See the full video and learn more about all 60 panels of The Migration Series here.