Hunter Museum Opens “Whitfield Lovell: Deep River”

Exhibition By The MacArthur “Genius Grant” Winning Artist Opens May 18

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Hunter Museum of American Art will present “Whitfield Lovell: Deep River,” an exhibition of work by internationally renowned artist Whitfield Lovell. The exhibition opens to the public May 18 and will be on view through Oct. 13.

Mr. Lovell, the 2007 winner of the MacArthur Fellowship (nicknamed the Genius Grant), is known for his thought-provoking images of anonymous African Americans from the 19th to early 20th centuries.

The highlight of this exhibition is “Deep River,” a large, site-specific installation that Mr. Lovell has created specifically for the Hunter Museum. Mr. Lovell's multi-media space explores the legacy of African Americans who fled from slavery in pursuit of freedom during the Civil War.

Mr. Lovell was inspired by learning of Camp Contraband, a Union encampment on the edge of the Tennessee River which became a safe haven for those who made it across. The word, ‘contraband,’ was a term used to refer to slaves, or any illegally smuggled goods. It was common for these people to assist the Union Army in various ways, including serving as cooks and valets, blacksmiths, scouts, building roads and frequently digging graves to bury the many casualties, and also eventually enlisting in the Union Army. “Deep River” incorporates drawing, sculpture, video, sound and music. The installation presents aspects of the struggles and triumphs of historical events in unexpected ways. Although the inspiration for Mr. Lovell's narrative begins with Chattanooga's history, his work is universal in its discussion and exploration of passage, memory and the search for freedom.

The exhibition also features artwork created since 2008, including the artist's signature “tableaux” that are constructed of intricate charcoal drawings on vintage wood juxtaposed with found objects. Mr. Lovell prefers to leave the history of his salvaged wood intact, never removing the layers of age paint, adding only his Conté crayon drawings and the objects he has collected over the years. He fully engages our senses and emotions, especially in pieces such as “Pago Pago” and “Autour du Monde.” Both works feature uniformed soldiers, referencing the service of African Americans through two world wars for a country that still didn't acknowledge their civil or human rights and a military that was not fully integrated. Billie Holiday's rendition of the song, “I Cover the Waterfront,” emanates from “Pago Pago,” seductively lulling the viewer into a sense of longing. Numerous globes are placed in front of “Autour du Monde” invoking both the adventure of travel and dangers of fighting abroad for soldiers.

“The vintage radios that are part of several works in the exhibit remind us of the important role that radio broadcasting played in communicating both with the soldiers and with the home front,” said historian Julie L. McGee.

Also included in the exhibition are a number of mixed media drawings from Mr. Lovell's ongoing “Kin” series. Each of the “Kin” works features a portrait along with a single object. The pairing of the two creates intriguing narratives that are left open for the viewer's interpretation. Unlike the tableaux, the images come from mug shots, photo IDs, passport images and photo booth shots that Mr. Lovell has collected. References to slavery and subjugation inevitably rise to the surface when looking at some of these pieces.

However, according to Mr. Lovell, "they do not inform the creation of these works."

Whitfield Lovell: Big River is organized by the Hunter Museum of American Art. 

Related Events

Friday, May 17, 6 p.m.

Art Wise: Distinguished Speakers at the Hunter Museum presents Whitfield Lovell

Whitfield Lovell, the MacArthur Award winning artist featured in the Hunter's new temporary exhibition, Big River, will discuss his work. Program sponsored by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee Community Trust. 

Thursday, Oct. 3, 6 p.m.

Exploring Whitfield Lovell and Our History with Dr. Clark White

Historian, musician and self-described “organic” public intellectual and “bluesologist” Dr. Clark White of the UTC Department of History to explore the stories found in the art of Whitfield Lovell.

Area Organizations Host Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb For Weekend Of ‘Justice And Peacemaking: From Gaza To Chattanooga’

Social justice organizations and churches are hosting Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb for a series of events tilted “Justice and Peacemaking: From Gaza to Chattanooga,” May 29 to May 31. All events are open to the public and four of the five events require no advance registration or admission fee.  Rabbi Gottlieb is one of the first 10 women rabbis in Jewish history. She is a life-long ... (click for more)

Civil War Historian To Speak At Rugby On June 6

Michael C. Hardy, an authority on the Civil War in the mountains of North Carolina and East Tennessee, will speak at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 6, in the Historic Rugby Visitor Center’s Rebecca Johnson Theater. The author of twenty books, Mr. Hardy was named the 2010 North Carolina Historian of the Year by the North Carolina Society of Historians. He received the 2012 Alice Parker ... (click for more)

City Applying For Federal Grant To Extend River Trail To Moccasin Bend In $2.23 Million Project

The city is applying for a $1.6 million federal grant that would be a key part of the funding needed to extend a trail by the Tennessee River from Renaissance Park to Moccasin Bend. The city is seeking an Eastern Federal Highway Division grant to go along with $234,260 of city funds. The state portion would be $259,692.  Grants from the Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations ... (click for more)

Flora Tydings Selected As Chattanooga State’s Next President

Flora Tydings is expected to be named the next president to lead Chattanooga State Community College pending approval by the Tennessee Board of Regents at a special called meeting next Wednesday. The board will meet at 9:30 a.m. CDT at the TBR System Office in Nashville. Included on the agenda is TBR Chancellor John Morgan’s recommendation for Dr. Tydings to replace Interim President ... (click for more)

Don't Make A Mockery Of Memorial Day - And Response

We're told Memorial Day is the day to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in order that we, as Americans and others around the world, might live free, unshackled (invisible or otherwise) and without oppression. But how is that so when so many in America continue to be denied those freedoms? Others whose family and friends made the ultimate sacrifice? Their surviving families ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: A Great Orthopedic Success

Mark Freeman, the chief of orthopedic surgery at Erlanger Hospital, shared a dazzling look at our area’s Level One Trauma Center Friday morning. Yet, as he described the dramatic changes that have occurred in just the past 12 months, the promise of what will happen within the next year was even more appealing. Believe this, our flagship hospital is getting well in a hurry. “If ... (click for more)