2015: The Year According to Jack Whitten
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2015: The Year According to Jack Whitten


Jack Whitten. Photo by Gene Pittman.

Jack Whitten. Photo: Gene Pittman

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from artist-musician C. Spencer Yeh and choreographer Trajal Harrell to filmmaker Tala Hadid and theater director Daniel Fish—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. 

2015 was a momentous year for Jack Whitten. A 50-year retrospective of his work was shown in three cities—San Diego, Columbus, and Minneapolis (its Walker presentation closes January 24), and he witnessed the publication of his first book, the catalogue for Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting. But, as he notes below, it was noteworthy in so many other ways as well. Here, he recaps the year that was in a list that ranges from hedgehogs to quantum mechanics, Picasso sculptures to an exhibition of art he says contains “every fragment of ancient memory buried deep in my psyche.”


LewisN760px A Mentor Remembered

Sunday November 29, 2015: My New York Times is delivered every morning at approximately 7 am. I stepped out of the elevator in my bathrobe, picked up the newspaper, took off the blue plastic protective cover, and saw Norman Lewis on the front page! That made my day. What a joy for me to see one of my mentors on the front page of the New York Times.


ex2015jw_ins Visual Arts; Exhibitions; installation views. Jack Whitten - Five Decades of Painting, Target and Friedman Galleries, September 13, 2015 - January 24, 2016. Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.
Curator: Kathryn Kanjo, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Walker coordinating curator: Eric Crosby, Associate Curator, Visual Arts.

A Career Chronicled

The opening of my 50-year retrospective at the Walker Art Center and the publishing of my first book: Jack Whitten: Five Decades of Painting. Perseverance, hard work and dedication is starting to pay off, I’m still alive and working at age 76. Not bad, eh?



Atopolis at Mons

My participation in Atopolis, an exhibition honoring the ideas of Édouard Glissant in Mons, Belgium, was a beautiful experience. I knew Glissant, and his books have been helpful to me. I especially liked Lawrence Weiner’s installation mounted on the front of the gallery: “We are ships at sea, not ducks on a pond.” Somehow, this summed up the whole show in terms of the significance of place.



Picasso at MoMA

Clem Greenberg was asked what did he think of Jean-Michel Basquiat? Clem sardonically answered, “No one can have that much freedom.” Viewing the Picasso Sculpture show at MoMA, my reaction was how is it possible for anyone to have that much freedom? The man did whatever he wanted with totally unabashed freedom. He was a master! Personally, this show came at the right time for me and sent me a powerful message: Just Do It!



Melvin Edwards at the Nasher

Mel Edwards’ retrospective at the Nasher Sculpture Center was the best installation of his work ever. Mel’s control of molten steel in binding diverse elements taken from an infinite variety of sources directed at a specific symbol reveals the hand of a master. This was one of the best shows of the year.




Family Thanksgiving dinner at cousin Tom Tryforos’ home was especially celebratory this year. We had several bottles of Brunello di Montalcino from different vintages and different producers. All were superb! Turkey has never tasted better.


Quantum Moment_978-0-393-06792-7 (1)The Quantum Moment

Science is one of my main sources of inspiration it triggers my imagination. Our age is defined by science and technology and I believe that for art to qualify as significant form it must signify the age in which it is made. Most of my reading is philosophy and science, and The Quantum Moment: How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty by Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber opened up my mind tremendously and gave me another level of consciousness.



Hedgehog Visitation

My woodcarving studio is shaded by a large fig tree, and in August, when the figs are ripe, they attract a large variety of birds and animals that gorge themselves senselessly. My memory of this hedgehog is especially potent, he would eat so many figs that his stomach was extended like a balloon! It doesn’t get any cuter than this.




Trump Exposed

I thought that Sarah Palin was the ultimate political comic book character until Donald Trump entered the scene. How much worse can it get? The good thing is that Donald Trump and people like him expose the loophole in our Capitalist Democracy. Freedom of speech works both ways; everything is possible in America.


PJ-CD468_kongo_G_20150921173550Kongo at the Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition Kongo: Power and Majesty sums up the season for me. These works contain every fragment of ancient memory buried deep in my psyche. I identify so much to the Nkiski. Without a doubt, they are a major influence in my thinking about art.


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