William Wordsworth to Whitfield Lovell


Whitfield Lovell, Kin XXXV (Glory in the Flower), 2011. Conté on paper, vintage clock radio, 30 x 22 3/4 x 5 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, The Dreier Fund for Acquisitions, 2013 © Whitfield Lovell and DC Moore Gallery, New York

The subtitle of this work by Whitfield Lovell, a recent acquisition for the museum, is “Glory in the Flower,” which references the below poem by William Wordsworth. Why do you think Lovell chose this particular phrase for this work? Why do you think he chose a clock as the accompanying object to this portrait?

Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.
–William Wordsworth, “Ode on Intimations of Immortality” from Recollections of Early Childhood, 1804

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

The First Kin


Whitfield Lovell, Kin I (Our Folks), 2008. Conté on paper, paper flags, and string, 30 x 22 1/2 in. Collection of Reginald and Aliya Browne © Whitfield Lovell and DC Moore Gallery, New York

The importance of home, family, ancestry feeds my work entirely. African Americans were generally not aware of who their ancestors were, since slaves were sold from plantation to plantation and families were split up. Any time I pick up one of these old vintage photographs, I have the feeling that this could be one of my ancestors.—Whitfield Lovell

It was quite unexpectedly, in response to seeing a young boy in an ID photograph, that Whitfield Lovell began the first in his ongoing series of Kin works. As he recalled, “There was something about the emotion in his eyes that immediately spoke to me. I was compelled to draw that young man’s face at a certain life-like scale, and to capture as much of his expression as I could.” Lovell’s subtitle for the work, “Our Folks,” set the tone for the series, which has grown to a veritable family of 60 some relations—each one individualized with the artist’s careful attention to capturing the character of his subjects and their distinctive facial attributes.

The banner of American paper flags beneath the male figure, one of various flag motifs that recur in subsequent works by the artist, alludes to the complicated history of patriotism for African Americans, expressed by Frederick Douglass as early as 1852 when he asked a crowd in Rochester, New York, “What to the slave is the 4th of July?”

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

Cleansing the Ills of the Past


Whitfield Lovell, Restoreth, 2001. Charcoal on wood and found objects. Courtesy DC Moore Gallery © Whitfield Lovell and DC Moore Gallery, New York

This tableaux was originally created as part ofWhitfield Lovell’s installation Visitation, which explored the history of the Jackson Ward historic district in Richmond, Virginia, the first black entrepreneurial community in the United States, commonly described as the Harlem of the South.

Restoreth, as the artist once explained, “evolved . . . out of a need for reconciliation. For me, it bridges the abyss between slavery and the height of Jackson Ward’s heyday. The image is from a tintype of an older black woman. The work includes 33 medicine bottles—pills, powders, ointments, and tonics—that represent the elements of healing and fortification. The juxtaposition of these objects with the image of this powerful woman suggests a kind of protection from, and cleansing of, the ills of the past, while also alluding to Hoodoo practices that came from African customs.”

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