Past Collection Highlight - Whitfield Lovell

Each work in Whitfield Lovell's ongoing Kin series conjoins a found object with a precisely drawn portrait. Provocative titles unite the object and portrait, stimulating emotionally charged associations. The artist produces these portrait drawings from anonymous identification documentation (ID) photographs: vintage photo-booth snapshots, passport photos, and police mugshots of African Americans from before the civil rights era. Lovell urges us to contemplate the humanity of the forgotten, ordinary men and women depicted in these institutional representations.

Under the title The Moral Compass, the presence of the roulette wheel amplifies the poignancy of this hard-knock face. Perhaps we read irony into the title, and judge this broken visage as documentation of a life squandered at the card table or roulette wheel. However, the work invites us to plumb deeper than the imagined history of a single man. Lovell offers not a stereotype, but a memorial to an "unknown" individual representing all those of his "kin" subject to the wheel of fate. What choices are available to a man whose life is guided by forces as capricious as a roulette wheel? Judgment turns to compassion toward our fellow men to whom Lady Luck delivers--by accident of birth, race, and circumstance--the misfortunes of prejudice and poverty, instead of the blessings of privilege.

Karla Niehus
Assistant Curator of Collections and Exhibitions