Jack Whitten


Hauser & Wirth
548 W 22nd Street
New York
Nov 5th 2020 — Jan 23rd 2021

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At Hauser & Wirth, “I Am the Object” spotlights a fertile period of far-reaching experimentation by the late artist Jack Whitten in the 1990s. Memory Sites (1995), for example, is a kind of topological map. Its medium line—“Acrylic on canvas”—belies its complexity: “acrylic” takes the form of chunks of acrylic, cut to size from slabs of dried paint and arranged like a mosaic, and the canvas itself is irregular, sliced apart and pieced back together. Mask III (1991) is thick and cratered with shattered styrofoam, eggshells, and hair.

Whitten’s paintings, though immersed in texture, light, and material, do have referents. In a list of qualities “to avoid at all costs,” in a notebook to be reprinted by Hauser & Wirth to accompany this exhibition, he records as the first item: “FORMALISM.” Mask II: For Ronald Brown (1996) memorializes the former commerce secretary in Bill Clinton’s cabinet whose death in a plane crash was widely mourned, particularly in the Black community. Whitten, present for the March on Washington in 1968 alongside Martin Later King, Jr., was active in agitating for racial justice his entire life. Though he passed away in 2018, Totem 2000 IV: For Amadou Diallo (2000), which honors a young Guinean immigrant who was murdered by plainclothes police in New York, forcefully adds Whitten’s voice to the ongoing resistance against police violence.

Jack Whitten, Totem, 2000 III, 2000. Acrylic on Plywood Panel, 28 1/4 x 24 inches. © Jack Whitten Estate. Photo: Dan Bradica.