This weekend is your last chance to see the open heart surgery that is Jack Whitten's art at Alexander Gray Associates. As I mentioned when the show opened, this painting, Rho I, crash landed in my solar plexus and the damage just spread out from there. OK. That's a down and to the right of the heart, but you know what I mean. The way this painting moves is unstoppable.
I wasn't familiar with Whitten's work before I saw his work in High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975 last spring. I was duly blown away, and then in the next moment I was thinking of Gerhard Richter's abstracts. My bad. Remembering the time period the exhibit was dishing out set my head (and my timeline) straight. A month or so later I was seeing a show at Alexander Gray Associates when Gray invited me into the back to see something he had just put up. Hmmmm. The painting not only looked familiar, but it also was taking up considerable space in my heart right then and there. Synapses were beginnning to connect. (It also helped that that the book for High Times, Hard Times was on the desk.) Yeah. I knew this feeling.
Topographical Space #7
I was more than a little excited when Gray told me that the gallery would be having a show of Whitten's work in the fall. This show of both new and older works went far beyond my expectations, beginning with the aforementioned painting. I also got my swoon on when I saw the works on paper that Whitten had produced when he had an artist's residency at Xerox in the early '70's. The accomplishment here isn't that he simply made something interesting or so ahead of its time using new technology, it was that he made something so damn beautiful. He captured both the speed of light and shadow. It made me think of another artist whose work with the copy machine I greatly admire, Wade Guyton. Guyton was 2 years old when Whitten was hurling beauty against the walls at Xerox. Again with the "Hello Future. See you in 20 or 30 years." thing. But again: beside the point.
I have to admit that the new tile paintings in the second room didn't hit me that hard the first time I saw them. Maybe it was too much goodness for one visit. Maybe I just found the choice of medium disorienting. I mean . . . tiles? I wasn't ready. When I saw the show a second time though these paintings invited themselves in and didn't leave. That was fine by me. The arresting colors opened the doors, and then the intricate composition took over and brought it home.
So, to bring Richter back into the conversation . . . the German painter's best work and the leaps that he takes to get to it are, in the end, about the failure of painting, Not only do Whitten's shifts celebrate the possibilities of the medium, he seems to consistently discover new ones along the way. This is a great show by a great painter. Easily one of the highlights of my art year.
I didn't get a chance to post anything about Whitten's (now closed) show at P.S. 1. His painting 9.11.01 is hands down, the best piece of art I've seen that addresses what it was like to be in New York City on that day and every single day afterwards. It is a masterpiece. I almost never use that word here. This painting gave me no choice.