Whitfield Lovell, a 2019 Resident and frequent visiting artist, has generously given AAR two striking portraits of two of the first Black Fellows for the Academy Bar: Ulysses Kay (1952 Fellow in musical composition) and June Jordan (1970 Fellow in design arts), widely recognized for her poetry.
The two portraits are not intended to hang as a pair. “She deserves her opportunity to shine, and he his,” Lovell told former interim Director Elizabeth Rodini. Lovell doesn’t usually paint identifiable people. He is well known for his Conté crayon portraits of anonymous African Americans who lived between the Emancipation Proclamation and the civil rights movement. For the AAR project, he considered various early Black Fellows, but believed it was important that he connect to the subject. “You have to feel something for the person, or you can’t draw them,” he said.
Lovell often pairs his subjects with found objects, and that is true here. In the Kay portrait, lira coins stand for currency and the cultural exchange of what Kay offered the Academy and what the Academy offered him. The Jordan portrait features a brooch that Lovell purchased in Rome and likened to a kind of shining star or award. That portrait’s inscription is “Cose che faccio nel buio”—an Italian translation of the title of her book of poetry, Things that I do in the dark (1977).
The idea for these portraits arose during the reinstallation of portraits in the Academy Bar that was encouraged by former Director John Ochsendorf (2008 Fellow) and executed by Rodini during the pandemic closure, to highlight our increasingly diverse community. The current display is loosely chronological, allowing the Academy’s institutional history to emerge from individual portraits: the earliest Fellows face outward from the bar, those from 1970 to 2010 hang to its right and left, and the most recent Fellows face the counter.
Fellows have been contributing portraits to the Academy nearly since its founding, and all works are currently on display. Yet their organization tells a tale. “Deciding whose portrait to preserve, display, and honor shapes a narrative and expresses fundamental values,” Rodini wrote in a 2021 statement. AAR is consequently honored to accept Lovell’s portraits of our earliest Black Fellows into the collection. Our sincere thanks to Whitfield Lovell.
The American Academy in Rome's spring exhibition, June Jordan, The Poetry of Design (April 20–June 11, 2023), was inspired by Lovell’s drawing of Jordan. He will give remarks at the opening reception, just before the Conversations/Conversazioni on “June Jordan and Building Justice in Design” with the curator Sean Anderson (2005 Fellow) and the architect J. Yolande Daniels (2004 Fellow, 2023 Resident).
Watch the Video