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(left) Portrait of Ellen Gallagher. Photo: Philippe Vogelenzang (right) Portrait of Richard Shiff

In Conversation:
Ellen Gallagher and Richard Shiff on ‘Jack Whitten. I AM THE OBJECT’

Thu 12 Nov 2020, 6 pm

On Zoom from Rotterdam & Austin

On the occasion of the exhibition ‘Jack Whitten. I AM THE OBJECT’ at 542 West 22nd Street, please join artist Ellen Gallagher and professor Richard Shiff in discussing Whitten’s paintings of the 1990s: their innovation and their motivating sources–from prehistory, to the ancient and modern Mediterranean, to ancient and modern Africa, to tragedies personal and collective, to the most speculative branches of contemporary science and philosophy.

During the 1990s, Jack Whitten created paintings as arrays of bits of hardened acrylic, his “tesserae.” He referred to these elements of color and light as “digital,” alluding to his interest in electronic imaging as well as the quantum or particle theories of advanced physics. In Whitten’s agile hands, the technology and the science generated an art sensitive to the racial politics affecting his generation, yet imbued with spirit, or soul, transcending the moment.

Join us live on Zoom on Thursday 12 November 2020, 3 pm PST / 6 pm EST / 11 pm GMT. Click here to register.


Portrait of Ellen Gallagher. Photo: Phillipe Vogelenzang

About Ellen Gallagher
Drawing on the ostinato architecture of jazz, the social experimentation of science fiction and the syntax of Minimalism and Conceptualism, Ellen Gallagher has created a body of work over almost three decades that transforms found figurative imagery and abstract forms into what the writer Greg Tate has called “chiaroscuro roadmaps,” charting the maze of postmodern representation, race, beauty and belonging.

Over a highly multifaceted career, Gallagher’s work has been united by what she calls a “jitter”, an intellectual approach in which aesthetic possibilities are shook loose from seismic cracks beneath the surface of cultural entities normally thought to be unshakable and impermeable.

Recent solo exhibitions include: ‘Liquid Intelligence’, WIELS, Brussels, Belgium (2019), ‘Are We Obsidian?’, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago IL (2018), ‘Nu-Nile’, The Power Plant, Toronto, Canada (2018), ‘AxME’ at Tate Modern, London (2013) which toured to Sara Hildén Art Museum, Tampere (2014) and Haus der Kunst, Munich (2014); ‘Ice or Salt’, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah (2013); ‘Don’t Axe Me’, New Museum, New York (2013); ‘An Experiment of Unusual Opportunity’, South London Gallery, London (2009); ‘Coral Cities’, Tate Liverpool (2007), travelling to Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, Dublin (2007); ‘DeLuxe’, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2005); ‘Murmur and DeLuxe’, MOCA, Miami (2005); and ‘Ichthyosaurus’, The Freud Museum, London (2005).

Gallagher’s work was selected for the 2003 and 2015 Venice Biennale. In 2000, she was awarded the American Academy Award in Art.


Portrait of Richard Shiff

About Richard Shiff
Richard Shiff is Effie Marie Cain Regents Chair in Art at The University of Texas at Austin. He publishes frequently on modern and contemporary art. His book of eleven essays on Donald Judd appeared earlier in 2020 under the title Sensuous Thoughts. In 2017, he curated an exhibition of Jack Whitten’s work of the 1980s for Hauser & Wirth (London). In 2018, he contributed an essay for the catalogue of Whitten’s sculpture retrospective. His involvement with Whitten’s art of the 1990s represents his third and most comprehensive attempt to deal with the motivations and implications of the artist’s amazingly innovative body of work.

About ‘Jack Whitten. I AM THE OBJECT’
Hauser & Wirth New York presents rarely seen works made by American artist Jack Whitten (1939 – 2018). The exhibition focuses on his practice from 1991 through 2000, a period of intense experimentation during which, deeply affected by tumultuous world events, he strove to incorporate them into his work. Blurring the boundaries between sculpture and painting, and between the studio and the world, the multidimensional works on view combine geometric abstraction and found objects to mine spiritual and metaphysical thematic veins.

Among works on view are examples from Whitten’s Totem and Mask series of paintings, powerful elegiac works inspired by contemporary events that held deep significance for the artist. These commemorative works reveal Whitten’s ongoing fascination with African sculpture and his use of unconventional materials – acrylic, recycled glass, plywood and eggshells – in intricate, mosaic-like compositions. In ‘Mask II: For Ronald Brown’ (1996), Whitten recalls the Commerce Secretary in President Bill Clinton’s cabinet, whose untimely death in a plane crash was mourned in the Black community across America. Whitten’s homage to Brown contains layers of reference imagery forming a triangle, reflecting the symbiotic relationship between spirituality, thought, and syntax. For Whitten, honoring the contributions by important Black figures was a recurrent theme in his work, as seen with his Black Monolith series.