New York exhibitions. Hauser & Wirth is pleased to announce worldwide representation of Jack Whitten, the American abstractionist celebrated for his innovative processes of applying and transfiguring paint in works equally alert to materiality, politics, and metaphysics. Whitten holds a unique place in the narrative of postwar American art: over the course of a five-decade career, he has constructed a bridge between gestural abstraction and process art, experimenting ceaselessly to arrive at a nuanced language of painting that hovers between mechanical automation and deeply personal expression.
Born in Bessemer, Alabama, in 1939, Whitten was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement before moving north to New York City in the early 1960s and enrolling at Cooper Union. He mingled downtown with the Abstract Expressionists, absorbing the influence of Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Franz Klein, and Philip Guston, while engaging uptown with Norman Lewis and Romare Bearden. But Whitten would soon prioritize his own distinctly experimental vision, engineering breakthrough after breakthrough with techniques and materials, articulating new pathways between artworks and their inspirations. At times he has pursued quickly applied gestural techniques akin to photography or printmaking. At other times, the deliberative and constructive hand is evident. From his series of small Ghost canvases of the 1960s and subsequent pulled Slabs and dragged canvases of the 1970s, Whitten moved on to collaged acrylic Skins of the 1980s, and eventually to his more recent tessellated constructions – paintings that look like mosaics but are actually composed of dried-acrylic paint chips as tesserae unevenly set in wet paint.
The common denominators across the many phases of Whitten’s artistic practice – which he describes as ‘conceptual’ – are the avidity of his technical explorations and his mastery of abstraction’s potential to map geographic, social, and psychological locations, particularly within the African-American experience. Recalling his time as a pre-medical student at Tuskegee Institute (today Tuskegee University) in the 1950s, he once said, ‘[It was] an all-black college where the African-American scientist George Washington Carver did all his experiments. His laboratory is still intact. He was also a painter. I’m convinced today that a lot of my attitudes toward painting and making, and experimentation came from George Washington Carver. He made his own pigments, his own paints, from his inventions with peanuts. The obsession with invention and discovery impressed me.’
Marc Payot, Vice President and Partner of Hauser & Wirth, commented: ‘We are honoured and delighted to announce our representation of Jack Whitten. He is a pioneer of American art who has inventing new ways to exploit the materiality of paint while sharing powerful musings on race, culture, and the human condition. To us, Jack occupies a unique and critical position along the continuum of modern and contemporary art, and a special affinity with our gallery’s artists, including such predecessors as Philip Guston and Louise Bourgeois, and younger generation figures such as Mark Bradford. Like them, Jack is fearless in his efforts to innovate and negotiate between abstraction and narrative, the conceptual and the perceptual, the personal and the universal. We are dazzled by his profoundly generous work and look forward to sharing it with a wide and diverse international audience.’
Hauser & Wirth’s first exhibition with Whitten will go on view in New York in spring 2017. The presentation will include recent and historical work by the artist and be accompanied by a scholarly catalogue.
Jack Whitten’s work has been the subject of numerous solo museum exhibitions, including the major travelling show ‘Jack Whitten. Five Decades of Painting,’ organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego CA (2014); ‘Jack Whitten. Erasures’ at SCAD Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah GA (2012); ‘Jack Whitten’ at MoMa PS1, Long Island NY (2007); ‘Jack Whitten. Ten Years, 1970 – 1980’ at The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York NY (1983); and ‘Jack Whitten. Paintings’ at the Whitney Museum of America Art, New York NY (1974).
His work is included in prestigious public and private collections around the globe, including the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York NY, and Tate, London, England.
Whitten has received numerous grants and fellowships throughout his career, including the John Hay Whitney Fellowship, Individual Artist’s Fellowship from the National Endowments for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2014 he received an Honorary Doctorate from the San Francisco Art Institute.
In May 2016, Whitten will be awarded an honorary Doctorate from Brandeis University in recognition of his contribution to the arts. A book of the artist’s writings will be published in 2017, produced by Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum and edited by Katy Siegel, Rose Curator at Large and Eugene V. and Clare E. Endowed Chair in Modern American Art at Stony Brook University.