THIS SPRING, Jack Whitten is sharing a previously unknown aspect of his practice with the public for the first time. “Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963-2016” opens at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) on April 22, 2018. Co-organized with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the show will feature 40 sculptures Whitten made over the span of five decades in Greece.
The exhibition is curated by Katy Siegel, senior programming and research curator at BMA and Kelly Baum, contemporary art curator at The Met.
“It’s thrilling to share an unknown aspect of a contemporary master, especially when it reveals so much about the artist’s vision and process,” said Siegel in a statement. “Whitten’s sculpture renders a new understanding of American culture as the product of intertwined rather than opposed African and European traditions. And in doing so, it positions Black identity as central to a broad, cosmopolitan humanism.”
“Whitten’s sculpture renders a new understanding of American culture as the product of intertwined rather than opposed African and European traditions. And in doing so, it positions Black identity as central to a broad, cosmopolitan humanism.” — Katy Siegel
JACK WHITTEN, “Lucy,” 2011 (Black mulberry, mixed media, Phaistos stone, mahogany, metal I-beam). | Courtesy the artist
RECOGNIZED FOR HIS CONCEPTUAL APPROACH to abstraction, Whitten’s mixed-media paintings tackle a range of topics from politics and the Civil Rights Movement to Sept. 11 and astrophysics.
Born in Bessemer, Ala., Whitten was a pre-med student and Air Force ROTC cadet at Tuskegee Institute before he moved to New York and graduated from The Cooper Union in 1964. He remained in New York where he was first exposed to African sculpture at The Met and Brooklyn Museum when he visited the city during the summers of 1958 and 1959. After he finished school, Whitten continued to educate himself, studying the collection of African art owned by Allan Stone, his first art dealer. While he focused primarily on painting, he began to make sculpture in private.
Whitten, who lives and works in Queens, N.Y., has been spending summers on the Greek island of Crete since 1969. The change of environment pushed his work in new directions. Inspired by his appreciation for African sculpture and introduction to ancient Cycladic and Minoane work from the region, Whitten made sculpture composed of a variety of materials including wood, marble, stone, copper, bone, fishing wire, and meaningful personal objects.
While the forthcoming museum exhibition is the first comprehensive showing of the artist’s sculptures, an example from the body of work debuted earlier this year at Hauser & Wirth in New York. Whitten’s first show at the gallery included “Quantum Man (The Sixth Portal),” a 2016 sculpture made with marble, Cretan walnut, Serbian oak, lead, and acrylic.
Jack Whitten first presented an example of his sculpture earlier this year at Hauser & Wirth Gallery. Shown in foreground, Installation view of “Quantum Man (The Sixth Portal),” 2016, by Jack Whitten at Hauser & Wirth New York (Jan. 26-April 8, 2017). | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine
IN ADDITION TO SHOWCASING HIS SCULPTURES, “Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1963-2016” will unite for the first time the artist’s celebrated Black Monolith series, works that pay tribute to black cultural figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, John Coltrane, Ralph Ellison, and fellow artist Jacob Lawrence. The context is intended to shed light on how Whitten’s closely held sculpture practice has influenced his approach to painting.
The sculptures will also be presented in conversation with the kinds of historic objects that inspired Whitten over the past half century. The exhibition will feature carved African figures from Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone from the BMA’s holdings, along with objects from Cyprus, Crete, and the Peloponnese drawn from the collection of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.
“Odyssey” will be on view at the Baltimore Museum of Art from April 22-July 29, 2018, and then travel to The Met Breuer (Sept. 6-Dec. 2, 2018). A fully illustrated catalog will accompany the exhibition featuring essays by Siegel and Baum, and contributions from Kwame Anthony Appiah, Kellie Jones, Courtney J. Martin, and Richard Shiff. CT
TOP IMAGE: JACK WHITTEN, Detail of “Lucy,” 2011 (black mulberry, mixed media, Phaistos stone, mahogany, metal I-beam). | Courtesy the artist
Published on the occasion of his first career-spanning exhibition, “Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting” masterfully documents Whitten’s practice and features a lengthy interview with the artist by Robert Storr. Several other catalogs have been published over the course of his career, exploring his work and coinciding with various exhibitions.
JACK WHITTEN, “Tomb of Socrates,” 2009 (Wild cypress, black mulberry, marble, brass, mixed media). | Courtesy the artist
JACK WHITTEN, “Anthropos #1,” 1972 (black and white mulberry, wild olive wood, linen twine, wire). | Courtesy the artist
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