In Conversation: Fred Moten and Legacy Russell

  • Zoom – 19 Jan 2021

On the occasion of the exhibition ‘Jack Whitten. I AM THE OBJECT,’ the gallery hosted a digital discussion focused on the work of the renowned artist Jack Whitten (1939 – 2018) with Fred Moten, cultural theorist, poet and scholar and Legacy Russell, associate curator of exhibitions at The Studio Museum in Harlem and author of ‘Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto.’ Moten and Russell discussed Whitten’s ‘Notes from the Woodshed,’ his collection of studio writings, and Whitten’s negotiation of Black matter, Black abstraction, objecthood and subjecthood, and improvisation. The conversation drew on ways in which—to borrow Whitten’s words from his final log entry in 2017—‘art is our compass to the cosmos.’

About Fred Moten Fred Moten teaches Black studies, poetics and critical theory in the Department of Performance Studies in the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. His latest book, co-written with Stefano Harney, is ‘All Incomplete’ (Minor Compositions/Autonomedia, 2021) About Legacy Russell Legacy Russell is a curator and writer. Born and raised in New York City, she is the associate curator of exhibitions at The Studio Museum in Harlem. Russell holds an MRes with Distinction in Art History from Goldsmiths, University of London with a focus in Visual Culture. Her academic, curatorial, and creative work focuses on gender, performance, digital selfdom, internet idolatry, and new media ritual. Russell’s written work, interviews, and essays have been published internationally. She is the recipient of the Thoma Foundation 2019 Arts Writing Award in Digital Art, a 2020 Rauschenberg Residency Fellow, and a recipient of the 2021 Creative Capital Award. Her first book ‘Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto’ (2020) is published by Verso Books. 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.