Conjuring the Aural Past with Whitfield Lovell


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.

Encounter with an Effigy

Messager effigies_Rachel Burley

Installation view of Annette Messager’s Mes petites effigies (My Little Effigies) (1989-90). Photo: Rachel Burley

Messager effigies detail_Rachel Burley

Detail, Annette Messager’s Mes petites effigies (My Little Effigies) (1989-90). Photo: Rachel Burley

One of my favorite rooms at The Phillips Collection is the gallery just to the right of the entrance that’s currently displaying recent acquisitions. The large, open room is full of interesting pieces that remind me how revolutionary art can be, and how avant-garde the masterpieces in the permanent collection were in their own time. Currently hanging on the right wall is one of Annette Messager’s captivating installations, Mes petites effigies (My Little Effigies). I have to admit that I did not initially approach this work with any critical art historical eye, but instead was drawn to it because the hanging animals reminded me of the Beanie Babies collection I had when I was young. As I moved toward the installation to study it closer, however, all juvenile connections fell away. Although not without humor, it elicits quite a somber mood. 13 stuffed animals, holding 13 framed body parts, hang on brown string in front of 13 framed and handwritten letters. Colorful dogs, bears, cats, and even hugging otters present black and white photographs of eyes, noses, mouths, and the backs of knees. They can’t help but seem like portraits, especially when the framed writing behind them announces what they are—hesitation, confusion, obstacle, reconciliation.

What is exceptional about Messager’s installation is how quickly and powerfully it engages the viewer’s imagination. Who are these effigies to her? And who might they be to me? The unexpected visual cues inspire endless interpretations, which is the mark of great art.

Rachel Burley, Marketing & Communications Intern