Beacon, New York, October 20, 2022 – Opening at Dia Beacon this fall is the first-ever exhibition devoted to Jack Whitten’s Greek Alphabet painting series (1975–78). Assembling forty works from private and institutional lenders, this exhibition offers unique insight into a pivotal moment in Whitten’s practice. Jack Whitten: The Greek Alphabet Series opens on November 18, 2022, and remains on view until July 10, 2023.
“Remarkably, this is the first time that more than a handful of works from Whitten’s seminal Greek Alphabet series have been publicly displayed together. The exhibition is the result of years of curatorial research to retrace the contours of the series and locate the individual paintings. It is only in seeing such a significant number of them assembled, as the artist intended, that one can appreciate the formal and material permutations of the series,” said Jessica Morgan, Dia’s Nathalie de Gunzburg director.
Over a career of more than fifty years, Whitten developed a painting language equally driven by concept and process and characterized by material experimentation, dense luminosities, and multidimensionality. His work from the 1970s marks a juncture in his career in which he rejected the gestural brushstrokes of Abstract Expressionism and embarked on what would become a sustained interest in experimental processes and materials.
Realized in his studio in downtown New York, the series consists of variations on predominantly black-and-white abstract compositions ordered per the twenty-four letters of the Greek alphabet. The paintings’ complex surfaces, which the artist equated to a “weaving of light,” resulted from involved experiments with tools including handmade rakes and combs and processes such as imprinting and frottage. Whitten never had an opportunity to present the Greek Alphabet series in full; of the nearly 60 works in the series, only a few have ever been publicly exhibited.
The exhibition is accompanied by a book of the same title published by Dia. This illustrated publication will feature new essays by Donna De Salvo and Matilde Guidelli-Guidi, the exhibition’s curators; the scholar Courtney J. Martin; the artist Gregg Bordowitz; and the poet and theorist Fred Moten. Whitten’s own charismatic voice and expansive thinking are present in the form of previously unpublished writings, interviews, and archival materials, selected and annotated by Guidelli-Guidi with Janine DeFeo.
In response to the formal qualities of the series, and to honor Whitten’s long-standing interest in experimental music, Dia has invited trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith to musically interpret the paintings. This rare performance by one of the foremost figures in contemporary music will take place in the galleries on December 3, 2022, at 2 pm.
“It is an incredible honor to bring together this extraordinary body of work for the first time and an unparalleled opportunity to consider them in the context of Dia Beacon. When these works were created, Whitten was still relatively young in his career. His commitment to rethinking painting at a time when the medium was seemingly obsolete is a testament to his resilience and inexhaustible talent,” said De Salvo, exhibition co-curator.
“Whitten’s systematic investigation of acrylic paint, indirect methods of execution, and collapse of gesture into surface place these works at the intersection of Conceptual, Minimalist, and Process art. His formal research paralleled a philosophical one, encompassing the new mediascape and the fractal nature of jazz music, quantum physics, and space travel. Situated at Dia Beacon among works by his contemporaries, the Greek Alphabet series reveals Whitten’s distinct materialist contribution to abstract painting in the 1970s and his enduring relevance for contemporary practice,” said Guidelli-Guidi, exhibition co-curator.
Jack Whitten: The Greek Alphabet Series is curated by Donna De Salvo, senior adjunct curator for special projects, and Matilde Guidelli-Guidi, associate curator, with Zuna Maza, curatorial assistant.
All exhibitions at Dia are made possible by the Economou Exhibition Fund.
Jack Whitten is made possible by major support from the Jeffrey and Leslie Fischer Family Foundation and Susan and Larry Marx. Significant support provided by Karyn Kohl. Generous support provided by Laura and James DeMare, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Kathy and Richard Fuld, Goodman Taft, Green Family Art Foundation, Amy and John Griffin, Agnes Gund, Holly Peterson Art Foundation, Pamela J. Joyner and Alfred J. Giuffrida, Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis, Sheila and Bill Lambert, Lebowitz-Aberly Family Foundation, Miyoung Lee and Neil Simpkins, Anthony Meier, Ilene and Michael Salcman, and those who wish to remain anonymous. Additional support provided by the Barrish Family, Sascha Bauer, Jacqueline Bradley and Clarence Otis, Alice and Nahum Lainer, and Nancy Lainer.
The publication is made possible by major support from Hauser & Wirth and generous support from the Girlfriend Fund.
About Jack Whitten
Jack Whitten was born in Bessemer, Alabama, in 1939. He moved to New York in 1960 to pursue a BFA in painting at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and lived in the city for the rest of his life. After his first trip to Greece in 1969, he regularly spent summers on the island of Crete. Sculptures realized during his summers there as well as widely experimental drawings accompanied his painting practice of more than five decades. Whitten had his first solo exhibition at the Allan Stone Gallery, New York, in 1968, followed by early solo institutional presentations at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1974 and at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, in 1983. In recent years, surveys of his work have been presented internationally at institutions including the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Whitten died in New York in 2018.
About Dia Art Foundation
Taking its name from the Greek word meaning “through,” Dia was established in 1974 with the mission to serve as a conduit for artists to realize ambitious new projects, unmediated by overt interpretation and uncurbed by the limitations of more traditional museums and galleries. Dia’s programming fosters contemplative and sustained consideration of a single artist’s body of work and its collection is distinguished by the deep and long-standing relationships that the nonprofit has cultivated with artists whose work came to prominence particularly in the 1960s and ’70s.
In addition to Dia Beacon, Dia Bridgehampton, and Dia Chelsea, Dia maintains and operates a constellation of commissions, long-term installations, and site-specific projects, notably focused on Land art, nationally and internationally. These include:
- Walter De Maria’s The New York Earth Room(1977) and The Broken Kilometer (1979), Max Neuhaus’s Times Square (1977), and Joseph Beuys’s 7000 Eichen (7000 Oaks, inaugurated in 1982 and ongoing), all located in New York City
- De Maria’s The Lightning Field(1977), in western New Mexico
- Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty(1970), in the Great Salt Lake, Utah
- Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels(1973–76), in the Great Basin Desert, Utah
- De Maria’s The Vertical Earth Kilometer(1977), in Kassel, Germany
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