The Sweet Scent of Magnolia

lovell_kin-vii-scent-of-magnolia

Whitfield Lovell, Kin VII (Scent of Magnolia), 2008. Conté on paper,silk flower wreath, 30 x 22 ½ x 3 in. Collection of Julia J. Norrell © Whitfield Lovell and DC Moore Gallery, New York

The subtitle of Whitfield Lovell‘s Kin VII draws an immediate connection to “Strange Fruit,” a protest poem about lynching made famous by singer Billie Holiday in 1939. The startling pairing of a male figure with a red and pink bouquet of silk flowers is reminiscent of the song’s ironic contrast of the sweet scent of magnolias with the smell of burnin’ flesh. And yet, as with all his work, the artist seeks to open up many possible meanings depending on the perspective of the viewer.

As scholar Kevin Quashie has written, “Are these flowers from his room, a private and unusual explosion of color? The flowers he gave to a date or the ones he brought to a funeral? A sign of his desire to visit all the world’s spectacular gardens? . . . [Or] a more ominous reading—his killed body marked by a wreath . . . we can wonder if he loved pink and purple tones, without ignoring the possibility of racist violence. Whatever the story, the flowers are a surprise that interrupt the dominant narratives that might be ascribed to the profile of a black man of that age.”

Strange Fruit
Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin’ eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin’ flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop
–original poem by Abel Meeropol, 1937

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

Artist as Poet: The Purest Red

On July 21, 2016, Deputy Director for Curatorial and Academic Affairs Klaus Ottmann shares an overview of Karel Appel: A Gesture of Color. In anticipation, we’re sharing examples of Appel’s poetry paired with his artwork on the blog. 

Appel_Wounded Nude

Karel Appel, Wounded Nude, 1959. Oil on canvas, 72 x 95 5/8 in. Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

In my inner life exists a desire
for the purest red
my nervous system is red
my tissues are red
my entire being is red
the primal animal lies
on the beach
as a broken red sun
drenched with dark red blood

Karel Appel, “Ode to Red”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appel_Floating Like the Wind

Karel Appel, Floating like the Wind, 1975. Oil on canvas 78 3/4 x 102 3/4 in. Private Collection © Karel Appel Foundation, c/o ARS New York, 2016

Never heard the sound of her voice
floating over the desert
full of space nostalgia and loneliness
where yellow camels stare into infinity

Karel Appel, “Fata Morgana”

Artist as Poet: Solitary Bird

On July 21, 2016, Deputy Director for Curatorial and Academic Affairs Klaus Ottmann shares an overview of Karel Appel: A Gesture of Color. In anticipation, we’re sharing examples of Appel’s poetry paired with his artwork on the blog. 

Appel_Big Head

Karel Appel, Big Head, 1964. Oil on canvas, 74 5/8 x 90 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of the Karel Appel Foundation, 2016

I saw a mouth screaming
and a knife dancing
with a happy crime
that’s enough
that’s OK
it isn’t enough
it isn’t OK

Karel Appel, “TV in the Open Window”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appel_The Owlman no. 1

Karel Appel, The Owlman no. 1, 1960. Acrylic on olive-tree stump, 61 3/4 x 35 5/8 x 20 1/2 in. Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

If I were a bird
so they would say
He flies alone
they would say
He flies through the night
I fly higher and higher
no longer a bird

Karel Appel, “Solitary Bird”
(trans. Klaus Ottmann)