Saturday, January 2, 2016

Jack Whitten Plus a Few More Photos

Holiday weeks mean lots of time spent in museums. This week I went to both the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Art (now rebranded as Mia). I went to the Walker to see the Hippie Modernism show (more on that in a later post) but was most struck by a different exhibit I hadn't planned to see: the retrospective on painter Jack Whitten.


I had never heard of Whitten before; my loss, but it's now somewhat rectified. Whitten has been working since about 1960, generally as an abstract minimalist, but when he started turning his paintings into large-scale mosaics sometime in mid-career, his work became something startling.

The show opens with a gigantic piece called 09/11/01, which dominates the gallery. It looks like a dark and glittering pyramid, but reading the title card gives the context: Whitten has lived in Tribeca since the early 1960s and was home on September 11. The painting is from 2006.

This piece, called Black Monolith, II: Homage to Ralph Ellison The Invisible Man, is from 1994:


Like most of Whitten's works, this is large, probably six or eight feet wide.


To appreciate it, you have to look close. The media listed include acrylic, molasses, copper, salt, coal, ash, chocolate, onion, herbs, rust, and eggshell. Each of the pieces shown in the close-up is about a half-inch wide.

Near the end of the show, his most recent works include three-dimensional molded objects distending from the surfaces of the paintings. This one is called Sandbox: For the Children of Sandy Hook Elementary School:


The colors of the objects and the light, friendly background feel like perfect representations of childhood.


I think of all these objects as molds that a child might use in a sandbox to create shapes or play with water.


Getting closer shows the texture, and reveals its brokenness.

A few days after the Walker visit, I finally got to Mia to see the Delacroix's Influence show. That one doesn't allow photography, so no visuals from me, but I agree with the reviews that say it's one not to miss. I especially liked the way the curators included Delacroix's giant murals (which can only be seen in France, of course) through a short film.

If you visit Mia, also be sure to check out the Seven Masters exhibit. These 20th-century woodblock prints by seven Japanese artists include the usual subjects of kabuki actors, bathing women, and landscapes. Some reveal the cultural changes taking place in Japan in the 1920s: traditional printing methods used to show people in Western dress and hair styles, for instance.

My only two photos worth sharing from Mia aren't from either exhibit, though. One is a piece of Mississippian pottery:


This clay vessel, made by an artist of the Quapaw tribe in about 1500, grabbed me.

The other photo is of a gift-shop shirt, designed by the artist Jenny Holzer:


We can only hope this is true.

1 comment:

Cat Fur Paintings said...

Nice post! I appreciate the detail shots of the Whitten paintings.