WHITFIELD LOVELL (New York, N.Y., b. 1959), “Flight” From the installation Deep River, 2013 (wood cabinet, thirty-three suitcases, music stand, chest, sheet music, chains, and rope, 74 x 89 1/2 x 22 1/2 inches). | Courtesy of the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York. Image Courtesy Jason Masters
Concurrent focuses on museums where two or more exhibitions on view feature Black artists or themes, offering visitors a richer experience
THE ARKANSAS MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS (AMFA) reopened in April with a reimagined building envisioned by Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang that “embraces the surrounding city and park and establishes a bold new architectural identity.” Unifying eight existing buildings from the 1930s, the Little Rock museum is now a 133,000 square foot, open and light-filled space. The design preserved some of the past, including an Art Deco facade, but definitively speaks to the future.
Compelling programming has accompanied the new design. Visitors can explore two solo exhibitions dedicated to African American artists. “Chakaia Booker: Intentional Risks” inaugurated the new space and remains on view through Dec. 3. Headlining AMFA’s fall programming, “Whitfield Lovell: Passages” opened over the weekend. The exhibition is the most comprehensive presentation of the artist’s work to date. On Nov. 2 (tomorrow), the museum is also hosting a conversation between two of the most interesting contemporary artists working today: Wangechi Mutu and Firelei Báez.
Undivided: Wangechi Mutu / Firelei Báez
THE UNDIVIDED SERIES brings two artists together to interview one another. The museum described Wangechi Mutu and Firelei Báez as “world-builders, creating hybrid art forms that balance relevant topics with fictional universes and fantastical landscapes.”
Báez, who is based in New York, is currently presenting her first solo exhibition in Europe at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark. Earlier this year, “Wangechi Mutu: Intertwined,” a survey of the artist’s 25-year career, was on view at the New Museum in New York. Mutu’s bronze sculpture, “Mama Ray” (2020), is featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s new sculpture garden installation. She splits her time between New York and her native Nairobi.
Chakaia Booker: Intentional Risks
“CHAKAIA BOOKER: INTENTIONAL RISKS” features 20 prints and “The Fatality of Hope” (2007), a large, abstract wall sculpture composed of rubber tires, the artist’s signature material. Chakaia Booker made the prints in New York at The Printmaking Workshop founded in 1947 by master printer Robert Blackburn (1920-2003). Since 2009, she has collaborated with Phil Sanders and Justin Sanz at the workshop. Alongside Booker’s work, historic prints made at the Chelsea workshop by Elizabeth Catlett, Charles White, and Blackburn, are also displayed. (Blackburn traveled internationally giving printmaking demonstrations and the museum notes that he visited the AMFA Art School in February 1985.)
CHAKAIA BOOKER (Newark, New Jersey, b. 1953), “The Fatality of Hope,” 2007 (rubber tires and steel frame, 85 x 201 x 32 inches). | © Chakaia Booker. On loan from the artist, Courtesy David Nolan Gallery
Whitfield Lovell: Passages
THE PRACTICE of Whitfield Lovell explores memory, metaphor, and history. His multi-faceted installations, Conté drawings, and assemblage works shed light on the extraordinary experiences of ordinary people. The works are inspired by found photographs of anonymous African Americans dating from emancipation to the civil rights era.
“Whitfield Lovell: Passages” presents key series from the past two decades. The traveling exhibition brings together two major installations for the first time, Deep River (2013) and Visitation: The Richmond Project (2001).
WHITFIELD LOVELL (New York, N.Y., b. 1959), Installation view of “Deep River,” 2013 (56 wooden discs, found objects, soil, video projections, and sound, 198 x 600 x 600 inches). | Courtesy the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York. Image Courtesy Jason Masters
Deep River is a history lesson. The emotional work is about the Civil War when enslaved African Americans fled plantations, crossing the Tennessee River to Camp Contraband in Chattanooga. First organized by the Union Army and then operated by the War Department’s Freedmen’s Bureau, the camps served as a refuge. Food, clothing, shelter, education, religious services, and medical attention were provided, although the offerings were often inadequate given the numbers who sought freedom. Able-bodied men were given labor jobs and some were recruited into the U.S. Colored Troops.
Deep River fills an entire gallery with 56 round foundry mold installed on the floor throughout the space with portraits drawn on them, along with found objects (tools, boots, Bible, lamp), sound, and video projections of the river.
WHITFIELD LOVELL (New York, New York, b. 1959), Visitation: The Richmond Project, “Parlor,” 2001 (dining table, organ, various objects, wooden walls, 223 1/4 x 161 3/4 inches). | Courtesy American Federation of Arts, the artist, and DC Moore Gallery, New York. Image Courtesy Jason Masters
Visitation recreates an 1860s-era domestic space, channeling Jackson Ward in Richmond, Va., an African American community known for its entrepreneurship that counted Maggie L. Walker (1864-1934), the first Black woman to charter an American bank, among its residents.
WHITFIELD LOVELL (New York, N.Y., b. 1959), “Kin I (Our Folks),” 2008 (conté on paper, paper flags, and string, 30 x 22 ½ inches). | © Whitfield Lovell, On loan from the Collection of Reginald and Aliya Browne
Lovell’s Kin series features Conté crayon drawings produced between 2008-11 that pair portraits with antique objects rich with symbolism, suggesting the personal histories of the subjects. Card Pieces (2019) is composed of 54 portrait drawings each paired with a vintage playing card, referencing a popular post time and rite of passage in the African American community and exploring themes of chance, skill, and fate.
Dating from 2021, The Reds by Lovell are portraits drawn on red paper with the dramatic color symbolizing a variety of powerful characteristics and associations including, love, lifeblood, courage, anger, vitality, and passion. CT
WHITFIELD LOVELL (New York, N.Y., b. 1959), “The Red XIII,” 2021 (conté crayon on paper with attached found object, 45 3/4 x 34 x 5 7/8 inches). | © Whitfield Lovell, On loan from a private collection
“Chakaia Booker: Intentional Risks” is on view at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock, Ark., from April 22-Dec. 3, 2023
“Whitfield Lovell: Passages” is on view at the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts in Little Rock, Ark., from Oct. 27, 2023-Jan. 14, 2024. The exhibition was previously on view at the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Florida and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. Next, the exhibition is headed to the Cincinnati Art Museum in Ohio, Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C., and McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas
FIND MORE A solo exhibition of Chakaia Booker is also on view in Payne Gallery at Moravia University in Bethlehem, Pa., from Oct. 26-Dec. 10, 2023
The catalog “Whitfield Lovell: Passages” accompanies the artist’s exhibition. Published earlier this year, “Whitfield Lovell: Deep River” includes essays by Kellie Jones and Julie McGee about the artist’s ambitious installation that envisions Camp Contraband near Chattanooga, Tenn. “Chakaia Booker: The Observance” was published on the occasion of the artist’s exhibition at ICA Miami. Four new volumes explore the work of Wangechi Mutu. Her recent New Museum exhibition is documented in “Wangechi Mutu: Intertwined” “Wangechi Mutu” (Phaidon Contemporary Artists Series) represents the first monograph of the artist. “Wangechi Mutu: Storm King Art Center” documents her exhibition at the upstate New York outdoor sculpture center. “Wangechi Mutu: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?” accompanied her show at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Published last year, “Firelei Báez: to breathe full and free” is the first monograph of the artist.
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