In joining Gagosian, Whitney will leave Lisson Gallery, which has represented the artist since 2015.
For decades, Whitney has made abstractions composed of rectangles of varying sizes in bright, saturated colors—oranges, yellows, blues, greens, reds—that are typically organized in square grids. Many recent works are done at a large scale, at 6-feet or 8-feet-square.
In a 2017 interview with ARTnews ahead of his inclusion in that year’s Documenta 14, Whitney described his approach to his process-based practice: “The color makes the structure. I wanted a system that allowed me to lay color down when I felt like it—I wanted nothing to get in my way. When I start these paintings I have no idea what it’s going to be. I don’t start with a sketch or an idea. I start by laying as much color down as I possibly can.”
His wide-ranging influences include early Minimalism and Color Field painting, ancient Roman and Renaissance architecture, Old Masters like Titian and Velázquez, and jazz, which he often listens to while painting.
In describing the influence of jazz on his art, Whitney has said he admires “the way that it’s a little offbeat, polyrhythmic; the way that things move. Nothing’s straight. Nothing’s regular. Everything’s a little crooked.”
Though he had been making art in an abstract mode since the mid-1970s, it was his 2015 survey at the Studio Museum in Harlem, organized by Lauren Haynes, that brought him wider attention and acclaim. During the show’s run, Lisson announced it would begin representing him, giving him a show in Milan later that year.
Whitney had a solo show in 2020 at Gagosian’s Rome space. The location of that exhibition was particularly important to Whitney’s own history as an artist, as it was in Rome, where he lived for five years in the ’90s, that he began to work in the gridded abstraction style that he is now best known for.
His work is now held in the collections of the the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the High Museum in Atlanta, and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, among many others. In 2011, he won the Robert De Niro Sr. Prize, which each year goes to a mid-career American artist and comes with a $25,000 purse.
His art is currently on view in a collateral exhibition to this year’s Venice Biennale, at the Palazzo Tiepolo Passi. Titled “The Italian Paintings,” the show brings together work from across three decades made in Italy and his organized by the Buffalo AKG Art Museum (formerly the Albright-Knox Art Gallery), which will mount a major showing of Whitney’s in 2024.
Additionally, Whitney also recently completed a series of stained-glass windows for the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Center for Matisse Studies; an accompanying exhibition showing preparatory drawings for the windows with works on paper by Matisse will open at the BMA in November.