Stanley Whitney

The last few posts have been circling around an idea that I think is pretty important, grounded as it is in studio practice but with implications for history and even for our understanding of time. I keep thinking about something that Frank Stella said: “In the aftermath of necessary change, progress is slow.” It’s that sense of slow or rapid progress that is so important for our sense of what matters in art. But in a way it’s an illusion. At certain moments, in certain periods, many many options become self evident. It takes time to work through them all, and then we say “what next?” But really those options have only been touched. We can go back to them and find that recognition of the option is not the real work. You have to dwell on the possibility until it gives up what it contains. Everything has to be repeated and redone, not as repetition, but as working with, working through. I’m not the first to say this, but living it is what matters.

Stanley Whitney, Sixteen Songs 1984

Stanley Whitney, Sixteen Songs 1984

This 80s piece by Stanley Whitney does not look promising. Actually, it might today, but you have to think back. It’s really a good example of bad art from a certain period. It’s professionalism, cleanness, facility are all deficits. But Stanley Whitney persevered and found something. The “unpromising” may be the best thing to work on after all.

Stanley Whitney, Goya's Lantern 2012

Stanley Whitney, Goya’s Lantern 2012

But then what do I know? Anyone who follows my blog knows that Whitney’s later work is point for point the opposite of mine. Maybe I should hope that pouring blobs is less promising than grids of colour. I can’t evaluate Stanley Whitney, but I believe that one has to live with art, not just think about it or know it, and if you’re an artist who lives with art, it should change. And as it changes it will become something you never imagined.

Stanley Whitney, TEAM Gallery NYC 2013

Stanley Whitney, TEAM Gallery NYC 2013

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