Jack Whitten

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Jack Whitten
Born December 5, 1939
Died January 20, 2018(2018-01-20) (aged 78)
Nationality American
Known for Abstract painting
Awards National Medal of Arts

Jack Whitten (December 5, 1939 – January 20, 2018)[1] was an American abstract painter. In 2016, he was awarded a National Medal of Arts.[2][3]


Whitten was born in 1939 in Bessemer, Alabama.[4][5] Planning a career as an army doctor, Whitten entered pre-medical studies at Tuskegee Institute from 1957 to 1959.[4][6] He also traveled to nearby Montgomery, Alabama to hear Martin Luther King, Jr speak during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and was deeply moved by his vision for a changed America.[1]

In 1960, Whitten went to Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to begin studying art[6] and became involved in Civil Rights demonstrations there. Angered by the violent resistance to change he experienced he moved to New York City in 1960. He enrolled immediately at the Cooper Union, graduating with a bachelor's degree in fine art in 1964.[4][6] Afterwards he remained in New York as a working artist, heavily influenced by the abstract expressionists then dominating the art community, especially Willem de Kooning.[7]

Art career[edit]

Whitten's work was featured in the Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1972. The Whitney mounted a solo exhibition of his paintings in 1974. He has also had individual shows at numerous private galleries and universities, including a 10-year retrospective in 1983 at the Studio Museum in Harlem and an exhibition of memorial paintings in 2008 at the Atlanta Contemporary Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia.[citation needed]

Whitten spent long portions of the summer in Crete, where he had a studio and made sculptures. [7]

Throughout his career, Whitten concerned himself with the techniques and materials of painting and the relationship of artworks to their inspirations. At times he has pursued quickly-applied gestural techniques akin to photography or printmaking. At other times the deliberative and constructive hand is evident. The New York Times labeled him the father of a "new abstraction".

When the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center occurred, Whitten was at his studio on Lispenard Street in Tribeca.[8] In the following years, he constructed a monumental painting, with ashes embedded into it, as a memorial of the day.[9]


In 2014, a retrospective exhibition was organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego.[10] The exhibition traveled to the Wexner Center for the Arts in 2015[11] and to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 2015 and 2016.[12] As part of his Walker engagement, Whitten wrote an Artist Op-Ed on racism and "the role of art in times of unspeakable violence."[13]

In 2018, a retrospective "Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture 1963-2016" was organized around the time of his passing and opened at the Baltimore Museum of Art.[7]

Whitten is represented by Hauser & Wirth and Zeno X gallery in Antwerp, Belgium.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

At the time of his death, Whitten and his wife Mary resided in Queens, New York.


  1. ^ a b Washington Post, Jack Whitten
  2. ^ "President Obama to Award National Medals of Arts | NEA". www.arts.gov. Retrieved 2016-09-22.
  3. ^ Greenberger, Alex (2018-01-21). "Jack Whitten, Beloved Painter of Abstract Cosmologies, Dies at 78". ARTnews. Retrieved 2018-01-22.
  4. ^ a b c Steven Otfinoski (14 May 2014). African Americans in the Visual Arts. Infobase Publishing. pp. 222–. ISBN 978-1-4381-0777-6.
  5. ^ Katy Siegel (2006). High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting, 1967-1975. Independent Curators International. ISBN 978-1-933045-39-9.
  6. ^ a b c Mobile Museum of Art; Huntsville Museum of Art (1 March 1995). Alabama impact: contemporary artists with Alabama ties. Mobile Museum of Art.
  7. ^ a b c Smee, Sebastian (January 22, 2018). "Jack Whitten: once neglected artist lately the toast of the art world". Washington Post. Washington DC. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  8. ^ Elisabeth Kley, "Jack Whitten | FROM GARBAGE TO GEMS" ArtNet, 2011.
  9. ^ Mary Abbe, "Unmasked: All-American art of Jack Whitten opens at Walker Art Center", StarTribune, September 14, 2015.
  10. ^ "JACK WHITTEN: FIVE DECADES OF PAINTING: Saturday, Sep 20, 2014-Sunday, Jan 04, 2015 at MCASD La Jolla", Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
  11. ^ "Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting, May 16, 2015–Aug 2, 2015", Wexner Center for the Arts.
  12. ^ "Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting", Walker.
  13. ^ Jack Whitten, "A Circle of Blood", Sightlines, Walker, December 3, 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]