“Lessons of the Hour — Frederick Douglass” opens tomorrow at the VMFA

The new immersive video exhibit will remain on display through July 9


Valerie Cassel Oliver speaks to media at a preview of the exhibition.

Photo by RICtoday

A new exhibit opens Saturday, Dec. 10 at the VMFA. “Isaac Julien: Lessons of the Hour — Frederick Douglass” is an immersive, 10-screen film installation from the internationally renowned contemporary artist.

At a media opening for the exhibit, Valerie Cassel Oliver, the VMFA’s Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, shared her thoughts on bringing a film installation to the museum. She praised the artist for taking filmmaking “out of the black box ... and into the white cube.”

Presented as a looped series of fragmented scenes of spoken word, photography, and contemporary footage, “Lessons of the Hour” welcomes repeated viewings. The film engages with a number of Douglass’ speeches, including “What to the Slave Is the 4th of July?” and “Lessons of the Hour,” from which the installation gets its name.

Viewing 10 screens at once is a striking experience, especially as the audio shifts and compelling imagery demands your attention. Douglass, portrayed by Shakespearean actor Ray Fearon, is throughout it all — leading a horse, delivering a lecture, posing for a portrait.

“It’s a really beautiful choreography,” Cassel Oliver said. “A feast for the eyes.”

“Lessons of the Hour — Frederick Douglass” will remain at the Evans Court Gallery through Sunday, July 9, and will be added to the museum’s permanent collections. Admission is free.

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