Jack Whitten (1939–2018)

Jack Whitten. Photo: Peter Bellamy.

Jack Whitten, a conceptual painter who tested the medium’s limits for more than five decades, has died at seventy-eight. The artist was awarded a National Medal of Arts in 2016 for “remaking the American canvas” and was dubbed “the father of new abstraction” by the New York Times. Throughout his career, Whitten eschewed the popular or marketable for what interested him philosophically, and was largely unrecognized by the mainstream until a major 2014 retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, California.

Born in Bessemer, Alabama, in 1939, Whitten became engaged in activism while he was a student at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, before moving to New York in 1960 to attend Cooper Union. There, influenced by Willem de Kooning and Norman Lewis, he started making his earliest paintings, vaguely figural impressions that reflected on the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. It was in the 1970s that Whitten became interested in abstraction, experimenting with forms of painting without conventionally gestural elements by employing combs, metal sheets, laminates, rakes, and a twelve-foot-long squeegee to administer acrylic on large canvases. These pieces, which he called his “Slab” works, were displayed in the lobby of the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1974 for the artist’s first institutional solo show.

Whitten would later reference ancient mosaics in his art, combining chips of dried acrylic into monumental portraits of people important to him, such as Ralph Ellison and Miles Davis. In more recent works, Whitten used this technique to address the geometries of digital technology, as in his 2011 painting Apps for Obama, shown at Alexander Gray Associates in 2011. Since 2016, Whitten has been represented by Hauser & Wirth, where an exhibition of his work was shown early last year. Although deeply immersed in the possibilities of abstraction, Whitten’s art consistently involves a political dimension, an aspect he credited to growing up as an African American in the segregated South.

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February 16, 2018

Hirshhorn’s Decision to Postpone Wodiczko Projection Is a Missed Opportunity, Critics Say

Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC, 1988, a public projection that was displayed on the exterior of the Hirshhorn Museum from October 25–27, 1988.

After a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left seventeen people dead, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, decided to reschedule the restaging of an artwork—a massive projection featuring a large image of two hands, one holding a gun and the other a candle, that was set to be displayed on the building’s exterior. The decision has sparked an outcry among art critics and creative professionals.

For Philip Kennicott, the chief art and architecture critic of the Washington Post, the museum’s response was misguided. “No doubt the museum would have attracted controversy had it gone forward with the projection now, in part from people genuinely troubled by the images. But postponing it plays into a fundamental misunderstanding of how artworks like this operate,” Kennicott wrote in an editorial for the Washington Post.

Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight called it “a missed opportunity” on Twitter. “This would be the perfect time for the art world to address gun violence,” he wrote. Andrew Russeth of Artnews also chimed in on Twitter: “Project it every single night until sensible gun control legislation is passed and signed into law.”

The museum released a statement on the day of the shooting, Thursday, February 14, that said, “Now is a time for mourning and reflection, and out of sensitivity to our community in DC and beyond, the Hirshhorn, Smithsonian leadership, and artist Krzysztof Wodiczko have made the decision to postpone the artist’s projection, Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC. We remain committed to exhibiting this important work, which is still relevant today—thirty years following its original showing. We look forward to restaging the work in its original format at a later date.” The artist added, “To me, the silence feels most respectful. In this case, not showing the projection shows respect and sensitivity to the people who suffer from this great tragedy.”

However, many critics of the decision have pointed out that there may be no right time to show the work. Robin Bell, a Washington, DC–based artist known for his own projections—on more than one occasion he has projected words and phrases on the facade of the Trump International Hotel as an act of protest—also disagreed with the Hirshhorn. “Yesterday was the eighteenth school shooting in forty-five days in the US. We need this art more than ever,” he wrote on Twitter.

The restaging of the piece, which was first commissioned and projected on the museum thirty years ago, was meant to coincide with the opening of the exhibition “Brand New: Art and Commodity in the 1980s,” which will be on view until May 13. Wodiczko created the work as political commentary on the hot-button issues that were central to the 1988 presidential election, such as gun control and reproductive rights.

February 16, 2018

André Harvey (1941–2018)

André Harvey. Photo: André Harvey Studio.

André Harvey, a self-taught American artist known for his bronze sculptures of various animals including pigs, frogs, cows, manatees, and penguins, died at the age of seventy-six, Richard Sandomir of the New York Times reports. Harvey had been a writer and a teacher before he was inspired to pursue a career in art while traveling abroad in 1969.

Harvey and his wife, Bobbie, were visiting a gallery in Vallauris, France, when he first decided to become a sculptor, and he convinced the gallery owner to teach him how to weld. He then continued his training when he returned to the United States, where he learned mold-making from the Delaware-based artist Charles Parks.

Born in Hollywood, Florida, in 1945, Harvey grew up in rural Pocopson, Pennsylvania. His father was a conservationist who founded Delaware Wild Lands, a nonprofit that aims to preserve, protect, and enhance the state’s natural resources, and his brother, Rusty, kept a pet raccoon, which even served as a model for one of Harvey’s works. Harvey earned his bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Virginia and then worked as both a journalist and an educator.

His bronzes, which were primarily cast using the lost wax method, first gained national recognition when they were exhibited by Tiffany & Company in its Fifth Avenue flagship store. Since then, his pieces have been acquired by various institutions, including the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson; the Delaware Museum of Art in Wilmington; the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas; and the Art in Embassies program in Washington, DC.

Commenting on Harvey’s practice, David Cole, the executive director of the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware, said, “What defines his work is that it is not only attentive to the forms of the natural world, but all his subjects seem to be alive. Even his plants seem to be pulsating.”

 

February 16, 2018

Berlin Art Week Moved to End of September

A visitor photographing Carole Feuerman’s sculpture Kendall, 2014, at the 2017 Berlin Art Fair. Photo: dpa.

According to Monopol, the date of Berlin Art Week has been changed. It will now be held from September 26 to September 30 and will coincide with the opening of the new fair Art Berlin, which will take place at the disused Tempelhof Airport. Moritz van Dülmen, the managing director of Cultural Projects Berlin and one of Berlin Art Week’s organizers, cited the postponement of the fair as the reason why the event was pushed back two weeks. More details about programming and locations will be announced this spring.

February 16, 2018

Berlin Museum Head Calls for Global Art Restitution Guidelines

Hermann Parzinger.

Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation president Herman Parzinger is urging international organizations to implement worldwide guidelines similar to the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art to aid museums in researching the provenance of their collections, according to the Art Newspaper. Parzinger said that agencies like UNESCO or the International Council of Museums—which are on board with his proposal—should organize conferences to develop a strategy. Adopted by forty-four countries in 1998, the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art outline the process for restituting art in public collections to heirs of Jewish collectors whose works were allegedly looted by the Nazis.

Parzinger is a founding director of Berlin’s Humboldt Forum, a museum slated to open in 2019 that will exhibit objects of non-European origin. The complex, which will comprise the ethnographic and Asian art collections of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, has sparked debate about the provenance of artifacts from former colonies. Last July, when art historian Bénédicte Savoy stepped down from the Humboldt Forum’s advisory committee, citing the museum’s deficient handling of provenance research, culture minister Monika Grütters said that the German government has “paid too little attention to the subject of colonialism” and guaranteed government funding for research.  

Last year, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation received funding to transcribe and digitize its acquisition paperwork for the Ethnological Museum from 1830 until after World War II. “This is an important step towards transparency,” Parzinger said. “The project has been approved for three years but it will take many more. Our collections of world cultures will keep us busy for many years to come.”

This recent reckoning with European colonial legacy is not limited to Berlin. Earlier this year, French president Emmanuel Macron promised a “temporary or definitive restitution of African heritage to Africa” during the next five years. “I cannot accept that a large part of the heritage of certain African countries is in France,” he said. “There is no justification that is valid, sustainable, and unconditional.”

February 16, 2018

Austin’s Art.Science.Gallery. to Relocate

Art.Science.Gallery in Austin, Texas. Photo: Glasstire.

Art.Science.Gallery. in Austin will close its current location in the Canopy studio complex, which is also home to Big Medium and Bale Creek Allen galleries, on February 24, 2018. While the gallery is planning to reopen in a new and more affordable space later this year, it has not revealed any other details about its plans.

According to Glasstire, Art.Science.Gallery. is the latest gallery to shutter due to rising rents on the city’s east side. The space is also having a “rad moving sale” that will run from February 20 to February 24, when the gallery will host the closing reception of its last exhibition, “SOLAR.” The show features the work of thirteen printmakers, including Julie Covington, Clarissa Gonzalez, Catherine Prose, and Madelon Umlauf.

Founded in 2012 by artist and scientist Hayley Gillespie, who has bachelor’s degrees in biology, fine art, and environmental studies from Austin College and a doctoral degree in ecology, evolution, and behavior from the University of Texas, Art.Science.Gallery is a crowd-funded arts space that works to engage the public in the natural sciences through visual art. Between 2012 and 2017, the gallery staged forty-five science-inspired exhibitions, showcased the work of more than seven hundred artists, and held more than two hundred free public events.

February 16, 2018

Kemi Ilesanmi and Juan Sánchez Join Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Board of Directors

Kemi Ilesanmi and Juan Sánchez. Photo: EmcArts and Hunter College.

The Joan Mitchell Foundation announced today that arts administrator and curator Kemi Ilesanmi and artist and Hunter College professor Juan Sánchez have been appointed to its board of directors. The foundation advances the work of living artists through grants, residencies, partnerships, and access to professional services. To ensure that this work is guided as best as possible by the needs of artists, the foundation requires that one third of its board be working artists in addition to members from other fields.

Sánchez joins artists and current board members Tomie Arai, Ronald Bechet, Yolanda Shashaty, and Jean Shin, and Ilesanmi brings her experiences working with artists—as a curator, grants administrator, and the executive director of arts presenter the Laundromat Project—to the foundation.

“We are deeply committed to ensuring that our board represents the perspectives of the many different communities we serve, and are thrilled to have Kemi and Juan bring their passion and experience to the foundation,” said Michele Tortorelli, the foundation’s president and board chair. “For the last twenty-five years, we’ve worked to further Joan Mitchell’s legacy, identifying important opportunities and creative ways to engage with and support living artists of all ages. We are fortunate to have such a creative and committed board of directors to help steer our activities.”

The foundation recently announced the artists that will be participating in its 2018 residency program. The full list can be found here

February 16, 2018

Moderna Museet Receives Donation of Twelve Monochrome Paintings

Robert Ryman, Untitled, 1969. Photo: Prallan Allsten.

Collector Claes Nordenhake, who has owned and operated a gallery in Malmö, Switzerland, since 1976, is donating twelve abstract paintings from his collection to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. All of the works are monochromes and will be shown in a room at the museum later this year.

“Claes Nordenhake is an unusual collector,” Moderna Museet director Daniel Birnbaum said. He noted that visitors stopped coming to his gallery in the 1980s because they felt all the works looked the same. Today, we can see that his eye for the miniscule differences is what has made his own collection so remarkable. His donation is of great philosophical value and documents a moment in the history of painting in a very precise way.”

The majority of the donated works are by artists who are not yet represented in the museum’s collection, including Olle Bćrtling, Marcia Hafif, and Robert Ryman. Commenting on his decision to part with the pieces, Nordenhake, said: “A gift like this is a demonstration of my gratitude for having been able to work as a gallerist in a fairly congenial environment where Moderna Museet has been the guiding light. However, gifts are rarely entirely altruistic, so I have decided to go public with my name, rather than make an anonymous donation. Hopefully, this might encourage other collectors to follow my example.”

February 16, 2018

Bloomberg Philanthropies to Grant Up to $1 Million for Public Art Projects

One of the vacant buildings illuminated as part of the “Breathing Lights” project in upstate New York. The initiative received million in funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies for the 2014 Public Art Challenge. Photo: Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, the foundation that encompasses all of former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s charitable activities, has announced the launch of an initiative that will award up to $1 million in funding to public art projects that address civic issues. Mayors of US cities with thirty thousand residents can submit proposals for works that will be evaluated on their ability to generate public-private collaborations, celebrate creativity and urban identity, and strengthen local economies. Called the Public Art Challenge, the initiative aims to encourage mayors to partner with artists to develop solutions to significant urban issues.

The first version of the initiative was announced in 2014. More than 230 cities entered proposals, which addressed issues ranging from neighborhood safety to environmental sustainability. In 2015, four projects were funded: “Breathing Lights,” a joint effort between the the cities of Albany, Schenectady, and Troy that illuminated vacant buildings across the New York capital region in order to elevate the issues of vacancy and urban revitalization; “ArtHouse: A Social Kitchen,” which transformed an underutilized building in Gary, Indiana, into a cultural hub for visual and culinary arts; CURRENT: LA Water, Los Angeles’s first public art biennial, which focused on issues related to conservation, ecology, and drought; and “Seeing Spartanburg in a New Light,” which collaborated with the police and fire departments in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to bring light and media art installations to the city. According to a national impact study, the projects catalyzed $13 million for the four regions' local economies.

“The Public Art Challenge brings people together to look at issues from new perspectives and uncover new solutions. The winning projects from the first competition all made a real and lasting impact in their cities,” said Bloomberg. “We’re looking forward to seeing what ideas emerge from this year’s competition and how they can help to build a strong future for communities around the country.”

February 16, 2018

Metropolitan Museum of Art Administrator Named President of New York Botanical Garden

Carrie Rebora Barratt. Photo: New York Botanical Garden.

Carrie Rebora Barratt, the deputy director for collections and administration at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has been appointed as the first female president of the New York Botanical Garden. After spending nearly three decades of her career at the Met, the Chicago native had been seen as a potential successor of the museum’s former director Thomas P. Campbell, who resigned in 2017.

Barratt first joined the Met as a curator of American paintings and sculpture in 1990. Since then, she has curated numerous major exhibitions on artists such as John Singleton Copley, Thomas Sully, and Gilbert Stuart, and spearheaded the $120 million renovation of the American galleries. In 2009, she stepped into the role of associate deputy director for collections and administration and was promoted to her current role in 2011. Barratt oversees a variety of initiatives across twenty-seven departments at the museum. She also worked with the institution’s senior management team to plan and implement the opening of the Met Breuer in 2016.

Barratt told Eve M. Kahn of the New York Times that leaving the Met is bittersweet. While it “feels weird” to depart after dedicating so many years to the museum, she said, “You can’t help but leave feeling more joyful.”