Robert Whitman

Robert Whitman: Playback

March 5, 2003 - January 11, 2004

<p>Robert Whitman. <i>Dante Drawings</i>, 1974-77. <br />Photo: David Allison.</p>

Robert Whitman. Dante Drawings, 1974-77.
Photo: David Allison.



Press Release


First Retrospective Exhibition of the Artist

Feb 18, 2003

Beginning March 6, 2003, Dia will present "Playback," the first retrospective exhibition of the work of Robert Whitman, a leading exponent of performance art in the 1960s and 1970s. The exhibition brings together a selection of Whitman's key works from the early 1960s to late 1970s, including sculpture incorporating projected film, a laser piece, a multi-projection film installation, and a suite of double-sided drawings. An opening reception for the exhibition will be held on Wednesday, March 5, from 6 to 8 pm.

"Playback" will be on view in Dia's third-floor gallery through June 15, 2003, when Dia's galleries close for the summer, and will continue when Dia reopens in September 2003. Exhibition hours during the 2002-2003 season are Wednesday through Sunday, 12 noon to 6 pm. Admission is $6 ($3 for students and seniors and free to Dia members).

Pioneering in its use of media as art material, Whitman's performance work is among the most influential of its period. His involvement with multi-media performance-based works began in 1960 when, together with fellow artists Allan Kaprow, Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, and others, he first exhibited in such experimental New York City venues as the Hansa and Reuben galleries.

"Playback" includes four of Whitman's key sculptures that combine an ordinary object with a film projection. In Window (1963), a window reveals a nude woman glimpsed in a landscape. In Bathroom Sink (1964) the viewer's reflection is shown alongside that of a woman at her toilette.

Whitman was among the first artists to incorporate laser technology into his art. Among his works included in the exhibition "Dark," at PaceWildenstein in New York in 1967, was one in which a thin red line draws and then erases itself, mapping the gallery space in a continuous loop. This innovative work will be reconstructed for "Playback."

Whitman's monumental suite titled Dante Drawings (1975-77), now in Dia's collection, will be exhibited for the first time. Comprising twenty-seven double-sided drawings, it takes as its subject Dante's elusive vision of Paradise, deemed by Dante resistant both to imagining and to memorizing.

Whitman's theater work has involved fantastical and haunting visual imagery that does not adhere to traditional literary devices of plot, narrative, or other text-based schema. In fall 2003, Dia will restage Prune Flat (1965), his most celebrated work in this idiom, which explores the intersection of cinema and theater. Accompanying it will be the less well known Light Touch (1976), which transforms its milieu into a hallucinatory hybrid of the actual and illusory. Early in its history, in April-May 1976, Dia presented a retrospective of Whitman's performance pieces, titled "Theater Works 1960-1976," which incorporated both of these works. Later, with support from Dia Art Foundation, Whitman designed a performance space in New York City (in the building today owned by the Kitchen) to accommodate innovative performance-based work. Several of his subsequent theater works were presented in that space in the early 1980s.

Together with Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Klüver, Whitman spearheaded the collaborations among artists, engineers, technicians, and scientists that resulted in the formation of E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) and the legendary 9 Evenings: Theater and Engineering at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City in 1966. He subsequently devised work for the landmark Pepsi Pavilion at Expo 70, in Osaka, Japan (1970), and "Art & Technology Show," at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1971).

By surveying this influential period of Whitman's career, and offering works rarely, if ever, exhibited, "Playback" makes a claim not only for the historical prescience of Whitman's works, but for their timeliness in an aesthetic climate now riven by the introduction of new technologies. In addition, the exhibition offers Whitman's practice as a paradigm for a mode of invention that ultimately relies less on technical wizardry than on an ingenious poetic resourcefulness.

After its presentation at Dia, "Playback" will travel to Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) in fall 2004, and to the Museum of Contemporary Art at the Serralves Foundation, Porto, Portugal, in summer 2004.

Robert Whitman
Born in New York in 1935, Whitman first studied literature and drama, then visual arts, at Rutgers University. In addition to the retrospective of his performance work at Dia noted above, he has had solo exhibitions at the Jewish Museum, New York (1968), and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (1968), and was the inaugural artist in the Museum of Modern Art's Projects series (1973). In the 1980s several of Whitman's theater works traveled to the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (1983), and the Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1987 and 1989). After a long hiatus, he returned to gallery exhibitions with shows at PaceWildenstein Gallery, New York, in 1995 and 1997. Whitman's historic work was recently included in the exhibitions "Les années Pop," at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2001), and "Into the Light: The Projected Image in American Art 1964-1977," at the Whitney Museum of American Art (2001-2002). Ghost, his most recent performance, was staged at PaceWildenstein Gallery in October 2002.

A major book-the first publication devoted to Whitman's work, and the only comprehensive study to date-accompanies this exhibition. Robert Whitman: Playback contains essays by Dia's curator Lynne Cooke and art historian David Joselit on Whitman's art in the 1960s; a study of Whitman's suite Dante Drawings by scholar George Baker; and an analysis of the artist's multiprojection film installation Spyglass (1976/2003) by curator and critic Ben Portis. It also includes full documentation of Whitman's principal performances and an extensive chronology and bibliography. A DVD produced by Artpix, a nonprofit organization that integrates contemporary art with new technology, accompanies the publication and includes extensive interviews with the artist and documentary footage of key performances. The hardcover publication will be available in April 2003 for $45, from Dia's bookshop at 548 West 22nd Street or online at

Public Programming
Art historian and critic Tom McDonough will lecture on Whitman's early work as part of Dia's Robert Lehman Lectures on Contemporary Art on Thursday, April 17, 2003. A second lecture will be given by art historian Branden W. Joseph on Thursday, October 23, 2003. Artist Tony Oursler will discuss Whitman's art as part of the Artists on Artists lecture series on Thursday, May 22, 2003. All lectures take place at 6:30 pm at Dia's exhibition facility at 548 West 22nd Street. On Thursday, May 29, Dia will present an open-air screening of film and video works curated by Robert Whitman. The screening will take place at 8 pm at Dia in Dan Graham's Rooftop Urban Park Project.

Exhibition Support
Support for this exhibition has been provided by The National Endowment for the Arts; Altria Group, Inc.; Lannan Foundation; and the members of the Dia Art Council.

Dia Art Foundation was founded in 1974. A nonprofit institution, Dia plays a vital role among visual arts organizations nationally and internationally by initiating, supporting, presenting, and preserving art projects, and by serving as a primary locus for interdisciplinary art and criticism. In addition to presenting exhibitions and public programming at Dia Center for the Arts in Chelsea, Dia maintains long-term, site-specific projects in the western United States, in New York City, and on Long Island. On May 18, 2003, Dia will open Dia:Beacon, a new museum in Beacon, New York, to house its renowned collection of American and European art of the 1960s and 1970s.

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For additional information or materials contact:
Press Department, Dia Art Foundation, or 212 293 5518

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