Be transported by Whitfield Lovell’s evocative multisensory installations, conté drawings, and assemblages. Whitfield Lovell: Passages is the most comprehensive exhibition to date of this renowned contemporary artist’s works, which contemplate the ordinary lives and extraordinary journeys of the African American experience while raising universal questions about identity, memory, and America’s collective heritage. The exhibition presents 36 works of art brought together for the first time.

Born in 1959 in The Bronx, Lovell, a 2007 MacArthur Fellowship recipient and conceptual artist, creates exquisite drawings inspired by photographs of unidentified African Americans taken between the Emancipation Proclamation and the civil rights movement. He creates assemblages by pairing his drawings (on paper or on salvaged wooden boards) with found objects. He incorporates those assemblages into his installations or presents them as enigmatic stand-alone tableaux that are rich with symbolism and ambiguity. Two immersive installations, Deep River and Visitation: The Richmond Project, begin and end the exhibition experience respectively. Also on view are his acclaimed Kin series, as well as his more recent works, the Red series and Card Pieces series.

Lovell’s immersive, multisensory installation Deep River (2013) is a monumental work that features video projections, sound, and everyday objects. Documenting the perilous journey freedom seekers took by crossing the Tennessee River during the Civil War, Deep River addresses that struggle for freedom and its inherent themes of abandonment, death, life, and hope. However, Lovell invites viewers to contemplate the larger human quest for equality and the pursuit of a better life—themes that transcend time and geography.

Visitation: The Richmond Project appears at the end of the exhibition and is a profound homage to Richmond’s Jackson Ward neighborhood. The installation includes locally sourced objects that the artist collected with Virginia Commonwealth University students in 2001. Lovell pays tribute to the lives, names, and faces that were the people of Jackson Ward, giving the country’s first major African American entrepreneurial community its rightful place in the history of America.

Whitfield Lovell: Passages is organized by the American Federation of Arts in collaboration with Whitfield Lovell, curated by Michèle Wije, PhD. Major support for the national tour and exhibition catalogue are provided by National Endowment for the Arts and the Terra Foundation for American Art. This exhibition is presented at VMFA by Alexis Assam, the Regenia A. Perry Assistant Curator of Global Contemporary Art.

Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Exhibition Endowment
Julia Louise Reynolds Fund

Bank of America

Birch Douglass
Elisabeth Shelton Gottwald Fund
The Francena T. Harrison Foundation

Mr. and Mrs. R. Augustus Edwards III
VMFA Council Exhibition Fund

VMFA is also grateful to the following sponsors:

Ms. Paula Saylor-Robinson and Mr. Danny Robinson | Paul and Nancy Springman

This list represents sponsors as of February 1, 2023.

Because I Wanna Fly (detail), 2021, Whitfield Lovell (American, born 1959), conté on wood with attached found objects, 114-inch diameter. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund, by exchange