Alexander Gray Associates presented an exhibition featuring new paintings by Jack Whitten, accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalog. The presentation highlighted the most recent evolution of process in Whitten’s nearly 50-year career dedicated to abstraction, manipulation, and subversion of traditional painting practices.
Scale, context, and history play equally integral roles in the group of paintings on view. With its alluring, slick black surface, the sprawling Remote Control (2013) is both seductive and intimidating, alluding to the appeal and threat of technology. In the massive Crushed Grid (2013), Whitten reinvents the modernist grid by immersing a distorted net of acrylic ribbons in thick layers of undulating paint. The varied effects of his material experimentation add a sense of tension, depth, and motion; the result is an array of illusory surface textures that seem solid and aerated, dense and viscous yet fluid.
The memorial and homage paintings in the exhibition further exemplify Whitten’s innovative consideration of painting as object. Elements of three-dimensionality are applied to the canvas, such as the acrylic molds in Nine Cosmic CDs: For The Firespitter (Jayne Cortez) (2013). The radiant energy captured by Whitten’s vivid palette provides insight into the fierce personality and artistic achievements of the late poet who inspired the painting.
About his recent work Whitten states, “I like the idea that people are suspended while asking questions about process. I like the idea that the viewer might be frozen by wonder. I have developed many conceptual and technical approaches over the past 50 years, and now, all I’m doing is going back into my toolbox and using them. I am dealing with the evolution of painting, Western abstract painting in particular. In this way, evolution is the symbol I am trying to capture. That’s why each work is so different, it is still in the act of evolving.”
Concurrent with the exhibition at Alexander Gray Associates, Jack Whitten: Light Years 1971–1973 is on view at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University September 17–December 22, 2013. Whitten’s painting, 9-11-01, is featured in The Encyclopedic Palace at the 55th Venice Biennale through November 24, 2013. Whitten will also be featured in the renowned traveling exhibition Blues for Smoke at the Wexner Center for the Arts September 21, 2013–January 5, 2014, as well as the Gallery’s Art Basel Miami Beach 2013 presentation. Whitten’s work will be the subject of an upcoming retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego in 2014.