Friday, August 7, 2015

Stanley Whitney Gets a New York Museum Show, Finally

My Tina Turner, 2013. Oil on linen, 60"x60", collection of Emily Todd
Courtesy the artist and team gallery
The Studio Museum in Harlem has given Stanley Whitney his first New York museum show, a welcome—if belated—gesture for this 69-year-old painter, who has been egregiously overlooked until recent years. Apart from a 2012 show at team gallery, the current museum show (curated by Thelma Golden) and another gallery show at Karma, I'd not seen it before. The exhibition is subtitled Dance the Orange, and indeed the raucous, exuberant colors sing and dance off the walls of the cool museum on these hot days. 

Untitled, 2014, black gouache on Fabriano paper, 11"x15". Courtesy the artist and team gallery
In an informative interview with the Brooklyn Rail, Whitney discusses his training and some influences, which include Barnett Newman, Donald Judd, Philip Guston, Alma Thomas, an Etruscan museum (stacked things), Egypt (density). His work may seem to be entirely about color—certainly a full topic—but when you look at his black and white gouaches, the importance of structure, rhythm, and negative space emerge. These take on different functions in the color compositions—a bit like reading a typed script versus watching great actors inhabit the roles.

Untitled, 2014, gouache on paper, 21-7/8"x30-3/8". Courtesy the artist and team gallery
Then there are his color gouaches. Absent are the lattice frameworks of the black and whites, but here one color may flow horizontally and vertically, aggregating in a larger geometric form which takes on a life of its own. Colors advance and recede and seem to converse with one another. It feels like a busy, teeming community, full of life.

The Blue, 2012. Oil on linen, 20"x20". Courtesy the artist and team gallery
In his oil canvases, the cacophony seems to have resolved itself into balance, with an underlying harmony—like musical notes on a staff. In My Tina Turner, the edges are smoothed, some of the color panels as creamy and dense as blocks of butter. The rough and jostling characteristics have grown up and become adults. In other paintings, the hues are cooler and more serene, and sometimes the brushstrokes are left textured, letting the canvas show through. His paintings are certainly among the most gratifying color abstractions being produced today. Through October 25.

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