Jack Whitten. Siberian Salt Grinder. 1974

Jack Whitten Siberian Salt Grinder 1974

  • Not on view

Whitten had seen it all: born in Bessemer, Alabama, in 1939, the artist was raised in the segregated South, studied at the famous Tuskegee Institute, joined the civil rights movement, moved to New York in 1960 and met Jacob Lawrence and John Coltrane, and witnessed the September 11 attacks from his Tribeca studio. Yet his art does not depict these momentous events. In fact, he nearly rejected literal representation altogether. His work charts a different history, one no less searing, of a transformation of vision: of how we see rather than what we see, rendered not in realistic depictions but in abstract forms.

In the early 1970s, Whitten began experimenting with new technologies of Xerox and photographic reproduction. He also changed his painting process, pouring acrylic onto canvases and dragging various devices—afro combs, squeegees, and a twelve-foot-wide tool he called “the developer”—across the plasticine liquid. The effect is one of forms moving at terrific speed, the rush of blurred vision from a vehicle, or a radar scan. Whitten’s abstraction was a charged choice in 1974, when many artists were championing social realism and figuration as political tools. But his stunning pictures explore mediums rather than specific messages; they suggest the ways in which struggles for freedom and power were now being fought in the realm of new media: the mass-reproduced image, the television screen.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Medium
Acrylic on canvas
Dimensions
6' 8" x 50" (203.2 x 127 cm)
Credit
Nina and Gordon Bunshaft Fund and The Friends of Education of The Museum of Modern Art
Object number
1061.2010
Department
Painting and Sculpture
Licensing

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at [email protected]. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA’s Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email [email protected]. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to [email protected].

Feedback

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to [email protected].