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Whitfield Lovell: The Spell Suite | An Initiative of Toward Common Cause

July 17, 2021 - September 25, 2021

Whitfield Lovell: The Spell Suite

An Initiative of Toward Common Cause

 

SSCAC is beyond thrilled to be participate in this 19 institution collaborative exhibit and excited to showcase new works by Whitfield Lovell!

Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40 explores the extent to which certain resources—air, land, water, and even culture—can be held in common. Raising questions about inclusion, exclusion, ownership, and rights of access, the exhibition considers art’s vital role in society as a call to vigilance, a way to bear witness, and a potential act of resistance. Presented on the 40th anniversary of the MacArthur Fellows Program, Toward Common Cause deploys the Fellows Program as “intellectual commons” and features new and recontextualized work by 29 visual artists who have been named Fellows since the award program’s founding in 1981. 

Mining vintage photographs of unknown people for much of his subject matter, Whitfield Lovell (MacArthur Fellow, 2007) aims to, in his words, “illuminate the humanity and richness” of ordinary African Americans who lived between the Emancipation Proclamation and the civil rights movement. Shown here are portraits from Lovell’s Spell Suite, a series name that references a sequence of pieces in music or dance and conjures the mesmerizing quality of enchantment. Lucidly rendered and powerfully expressive, these Black figures contradict the stereotypes of African Americans that have been perpetuated by mass media, such as The Beulah Show recording that plays from Lovell’s installation of radios, After an Afternoon. Together, these works probe the effacement of cultural memory with sensuous tones that activate the legacy of those whose personal histories have been lost. 

Whitfield Lovell: The Spell Suite is a collaboration between the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago and South Side Community Art Center. It is an initiative of Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change, and the MacArthur Fellows Program at 40, which is organized by the Smart Museum of Art in collaboration with exhibition, programmatic, and research partners across Chicago. Toward Common Cause is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and curated by Abigail Winograd, MacArthur Fellows Program 40th Anniversary Exhibition Curator, Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago.

Whitfield Lovell’s artwork is also on view at the Stony Island Arts Bank from July 15 to December 19, 2021. For more information, please visit towardcommoncause.org.

Image courtesy:

Whitfield Lovell (b. 1959). “Spell no. 12 (Richesse Noire),” 2021, Conte on paper with attached found object. © Whitfield Lovell. Courtesy of the artist and DC Moore Gallery, New York

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Start:
July 17, 2021
End:
September 25, 2021
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https://towardcommoncause.org/

MIXED MEDIA AND STILL LIFE

Works in EMERGENCE are diverse in their subject matter and media, but a few themes reappear throughout. Working in abstraction or in the traditionally peaceful genre of still life, artists like William Carter, Allen Stringfellow, and Jonathan Green express themes of interiority or sociability, history or modernity. Notably, Stringfellow and Ralph Arnold both experimented with media and materials and worked extensively in collage, which allowed them to combine abstract design, figurative imagery, and on occasion political ideas.

Viewers typically expect Black artists to focus on particular aspects of their social and political identities within their work. Where might those expectations come from? Still life, abstraction, and collage may express many different things about artists’ interior lives and their visual and social observation, whether connected to public manifestations of identity or not.

William Carter’s mid-century still life Untitled presents a group of vibrantly colored bottles that invite the viewer’s gaze, set against a similarly colorful background with floral elements like grapes and leaves. They give evidence of conviviality and might be interpreted as symbols of social gatherings, but they could also just be a collection of pleasing forms. We might put Carter’s still life in dialogue with that of Jonathan Green, who became close friends with Carter while living in Chicago. Green’s close-up view of an eloquently simple composition presents oranges, a pear, and a lemon in front of two vessels. Works like this piece call the viewer to examine the objects the artist chose to include, to consider how they interact with each other like bodies in space, and to reflect on their meaning within the traditional genre of still life painting.

Collage might suggest the piecing together of identity from different components that might not usually coexist, giving room for more expansive imaginations of meaning than a straightforward representational image might allow. It could also just be an inventive way of combining colors, shapes, and textures. Allen Stringfellow’s Untitled, a collage from 1962, brings familiar motifs from still life—fruit and flowers, desserts and glassware—together with imagery of artist’s models and performers. Layered with paint and tissue paper that frustrate the viewer’s attempt to get clarity on the subject matter, the bursts of form and colors hint at the splashy abstraction of Stringfellow’s untitled, textured painting made from house paint and particulate on cardboard. Here the artist tests commonly found materials to create new textures and plays with the creation of colors and finishes that diverge from “Western” academic painting methods.

In The Waiting, Arnold constructs a large collage from different paper components, lace, and paint. In the piece, elements of European and African art are placed in dialogue with one another, while some figures appear alone and isolated, others in large groups. Without giving easy answers, Arnold implies questions about social issues. Who is waiting, and for what? In his Love Sign II, which bears the words “Love is Universal,” Arnold asserts the equal validity of all types of romantic affection and love, utilizing collage to convey a more straightforward political message.