I follow the paintings wherever they take me. If the painting goes out the door, I follow it out the door; if it goes out the window, I follow it out the window.
“I start at the top and work down,” explains Stanley Whitney. “That gets into call-and-response. One color calls forth another. Color dictates the structure, not the other way round.” Whitney’s vibrant abstract paintings unlock the linear structure of the grid, imbuing it with new and unexpected cadences of color, rhythm, and space. Deriving inspiration from sources as diverse as Piet Mondrian, Giorgio Morandi, and American quilt-making, Whitney composes with blocks and bars that articulate a chromatic call-and-response in each canvas. He has spent many years experimenting with the seemingly limitless potential of a single compositional method, loosely dividing square canvases into multiple registers. The thinly applied oil paint retains his active brushwork and allows for a degree of transparency and tension at the overlapping borders between each rectilinear parcel of vivid color. In varying canvas sizes, he explores the shifting effects of his freehand geometries at both intimate and grand scales as he deftly lays down successive blocks of paint, heeding the call of each color. Experimental jazz—Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman—is Whitney’s soundtrack, its defining improvisational method yielding ever new energies to his process of painting.
Whitney was born in Philadelphia in 1946 and studied at the Kansas City Art Institute before moving to New York City in 1968. He graduated with an MFA from Yale School of Art in 1972, but found himself at odds with the politically and theoretically oriented contemporary scene of the 1970s and 1980s, confronting the expectation that an African American artist should contend directly with themes of racial and cultural identity. Whitney was more interested in honing an abstract visual language, his early works incorporating patches of color surrounded by areas of empty space. At this stage in his career he was also focused on the power of gesture and immersed in the daily practice of drawing.
Although Whitney has been deeply invested in chromatic experimentation throughout his career, he consolidated his distinctive approach during a period spent living and working in Rome in the 1990s, shifting his compositions from untethered amorphous forms to the denser stacked arrangements that characterize his mature style. It was Roman art and architecture—including the imposing façades of the Colosseum and the Palazzo Farnese and the stacked shelves of funerary urns on display at the Museo Nazionale Etrusco—that informed his nuanced understanding of the relationship between color and geometry. Italy remains a central and enduring source of inspiration for Whitney, who spends his summers painting at his studio near Parma.
Yet while the dynamics and characteristics of Whitney’s application make reference to basic architectural structures, his light, free, and rapid application subverts any implication of gravity. Reveling in the improvisational alchemy at play in his compositions, Whitney also skirts any claim to a personal theory of color: “I like to leave it as pure magic,” he states. “People say the color does this, or the color does that. And I say the color does what it does.”
Whitney lives and works in Bridgehampton, New York, and Parma, Italy, and is currently Professor Emeritus of Painting and Drawing at Tyler School of Art and Architecture, Temple University, Philadelphia. His work is included in public collections including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Dance the Orange, a retrospective of his work, opened at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, in 2015; he has also had solo exhibitions at institutions including the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas (2017), and Palazzo Tiepolo Passi, Venice, Italy (2022). In 2017 he participated in Documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel, Germany.
Photo: Jeannette Montgomery Barron/Trunk Archive
Private Pages Made Public
Megan N. Liberty explores artists’ engagement with notebooks and diaries, thinking through the various meanings that arise when these private ledgers become public.
The Space Is in the Color: Stanley Whitney
Stanley Whitney reflects on the evolution of his work with Louise Neri, from his formative early days in New York to the pivotal period he spent living and working in Rome, arriving at the highly distinctive paintings for which he is now known. They explore the diverse and surprising influences of art and music on Whitney’s oeuvre, as well as his process and practice.
Stanley Whitney: Rhythm and Vision
While preparing his first exhibition with Gagosian, in Rome, Stanley Whitney speaks with Louise Neri in his New York studio about how he arrived at his unique and intuitive approach to color and space in painting, employing a dynamic fusion of preordained structure and improvisation.
Stanley Whitney: The Ruins
For American painter Stanley Whitney, Italy remains a central and enduring source of inspiration. Matthew Jeffrey Abrams, the author of a new monograph on the artist, reflects on the profound and far-reaching influence of Italian art and architecture on Whitney’s art.
Fairs, Events & Announcements
Art Basel Hong Kong 2023
March 22–25, 2023
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Gagosian is pleased to participate in Art Basel Hong Kong 2023 with a presentation of modern and contemporary works by international artists.
Jadé Fadojutimi, As usual, the season’s showers tend to linger, 2023 © Jadé Fadojutimi
Art Basel Miami Beach 2022
December 1–3, 2022, booth D5
Miami Beach Convention Center
Gagosian is pleased to present a selection of modern and contemporary works at Art Basel Miami Beach 2022. Returning to Miami for the fair’s twentieth anniversary, the gallery is honored to have participated each year the fair has been held.
Gagosian’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2022. Artwork, left to right: © Gerhard Richter; © Amoako Boafo; © Richard Prince; © 2022 Judd Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation; © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; © Stanley Whitney. Photo: Sebastiano Pellion di Persano
Artsy Spotlight Auction: Stanley Whitney
In Support of the Art for Justice Fund and Planned Parenthood of Greater New York
September 27–October 7, 2022
The Freedom We Fight For (2022), a new painting by Stanley Whitney, will be featured in a single-lot benefit auction hosted by Artsy, in partnership with Gagosian. All proceeds from the sale will support Art for Justice Fund and Planned Parenthood of Greater New York in their respective urgent fights for decarceration and criminal justice reform and reproductive rights in the United States. The artwork is viewable at Gagosian, Park & 75, New York, during the auction.
The eighty-inch-square oil-on-linen abstract painting underscores Whitney’s facility as a colorist. Pieced together from rectilinear fields of red, yellow, green, blue, orange, brown, black, and gray divided by horizontal bands of red, blue, and teal, its “stacked” composition, translucent layers of paint, and energetic brushwork effectively deconstruct the modernist grid. Whitney draws inspiration from Greek and Mediterranean ceramics and the juxtaposition of ancient and modern Roman architecture.
Stanley Whitney, The Freedom We Fight For, 2022 © Stanley Whitney
Dance with Me Henri
Through April 23, 2023
Baltimore Museum of Art
This exhibition will highlight Stanley Whitney’s recently commissioned stained-glass windows in the Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies. Whitney has selected a group of works on paper by Henri Matisse, to be shown in dialogue with sketches for the windows and his own prints, unfolding the relationship between the two artists and their experiments with line and color.
Stanley Whitney, Sketch for Dance with Me Henri, 2021 © Stanley Whitney
A Decade of Collecting, 2012–2022
Through May 26, 2023
Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
X: A Decade of Collecting, 2012–2022 is a survey of artworks acquired for the Sheldon Museum of Art’s collection over the past decade. The chosen works demonstrate the breadth of collecting efforts and are a modest representation of the approximately 1,875 pieces that have entered the museum’s holdings since 2012. The exhibition seeks to present a snapshot of how the collection continues to evolve. Work by Richard Avedon, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Andy Warhol, and Stanley Whitney is included.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Big Bertha, 2015 © Nathaniel Mary Quinn
Opening Spring 2024
Buffalo AKG Art Museum, New York
Conveying the breadth of Stanley Whitney’s practice from the early 1970s through today, this exhibition of artist’s paintings at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, New York (formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery), also includes a robust installation of drawings, prints, and sketchbooks. The retrospective contextualizes Whitney’s practice in relation to his artistic community as well as his influences—from the history of art and architecture to quilting, textiles, and jazz.
Stanley Whitney, Endless Time, 2017, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York © Stanley Whitney. Photo: courtesy Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
The Italian Paintings
April 23–November 27, 2022
Palazzo Tiepolo Passi, Venice
The Italian Paintings is a look at Stanley Whitney’s practice over the last three decades seen through an Italian lens. The title refers to a body of work that encompasses pivotal transitional paintings from the time Whitney spent in Rome in the early 1990s, through to the work created during subsequent summers in his studio in Parma. The presentation considers, for the first time, the important influence of Italian art and architecture on Whitney’s oeuvre. The exhibition is presented by the future Buffalo AKG Art Museum and is an official Collateral Event at the Biennale Arte 2022.
Installation view, Stanley Whitney: The Italian Paintings, Palazzo Tiepolo Passi, Venice, April 23–November 27, 2022. Artwork © Stanley Whitney