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

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.

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