Stanley Whitney - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Thursday, December 3, 2020 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • "The music was always there because in my house, growing up in Philadelphia—it’s a big music town. You go to sleep with the radio on; you wake up with the radio on. Music was always playing—music, music, music." —Stanley Whitney

    Stanley Whitney’s distinctively vibrant, lyrical canvases are the result of the American Colour Field painter’s dedicated explorations into the possibilities of colour over several decades. Moving to New York as a young man, Whitney took his cues from proponents of early Minimalism and Colour Field painting, but fought against the impersonal, puritanical approach to abstraction pursued by contemporaries such as Mark Rothko, Josef Albers, Carl Andre and Kenneth Noland:


    "I felt they were all giving too much up. They gave the hand up, they were focused on being flat against the wall, what you see is what you get—I didn't like that idea. I didn't want to give up Courbet, I didn't want to give up Goya, I didn't want to give up Velázquez—I didn't want to give up anything."i 


    Whitney’s voracious approach to art-making went beyond taking cues from his artist forebears, and inspiration flowed from his travels (most notably his encounters with the simple geometric-blocked architecture of the ancient Egyptian pyramids and Italy’s Coliseum during his 1990s travels) and his own roots – particularly jazz music. In fact, music’s integral presence in Whitney’s childhood became inherent to Whitney’s oeuvre and identity as a painter:


    "Music for me is what set my work apart from the other people with the colour in the room. I think as an artist or painter, there are so many paintings that you have to bring something else to it. […] For me it’s the colour, the music. It’s a rhythm. It’s really like an Afro-American rhythm to it. That’s the thing."ii 


    Bootylicious by Destiny’s Child
    Click to listen on Spotify

    Bootylicious is a nod to the 2001 Destiny’s Child song which brought the portmanteau slang word - a combination of ‘booty’ and ‘delicious’ – into mainstream English language as part of the crossover of African-American popular culture. In 2004 it was formally added to the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘(of a woman) sexually attractive’. An ostensibly simple composition of stacked rectangles, Bootylicious is animated by a joyful and riotous palette – lemon yellow, mint green, coral pink, blood orange, sky blue, deep mauve and indigo. Each block is completed freehand, with visibly overlapping edges where Whitney’s brush delineates the boundaries of each hue. Whitney’s body of mature geometric works such as Bootylicious pulsate with intuitive rhythms, harmonies and counterpoints woven into the structures and spaces of each composition. Areas of thinned paint reveal that some blocks started out an entirely different colour, and the improvised drips and patterns left by the emphatic painterly gestures across the work speak to an intense depth and complexity of feeling in the work. 


    Wassily Kandinsky, Colour Study: Squares with Concentric Circles, c.1913, Collection of Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhau, Munich

    Whitney’s paintings point towards the transcendental properties of colour and form, a practice that resounds with the observations of the legendary Russian abstract painter and theorist Wassily Kandinsky. Kandinsky, a synaesthete who experienced colour in relation to sound, formulated a painterly ‘syntax’ and visual ‘chords’ composed of emotionally-resonant families of colours. He experimented with the auditory tensions and relationships between pure colours (see for example Colour Study: Squares with Concentric Circles, 1913), expressing the results in his Compositions, Improvisations, and Impressions abstract paintings and his writings, in particular his seminal 1910 manifesto Concerning the Spiritual in Art:


    "The sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would try to express bright yellow in the bass notes, or dark lake in the treble […] Colour is a power which directly influences the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul."iii 


    A visually compelling testament to the powerful effect of colour and form on the emotional experience of art, Whitney’s body of works continues to receive increasing institutional attention. Today his paintings form part of prestigious public collections globally, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (both New York). The artist divides his time between New York City and Parma, Italy.

    i Stanley Whitney , quoted in Aruna D'Souza, 'The Color Makes the Structure: Stanley Whitney Paints a Picture', Artnews, 30 May 2017, online.
    ii Stanley Whitney, quoted in Pimploy Phongsirivech, ‘How two offbeat artists made New York their own’, Interview Magazine, 29 September 2017.
    iii Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, trans. Michael Sadler, New York, 1977, p. 25.

    • Provenance

      Christine König Galerie, Vienna
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Vienna, Christine König Galerie, Stanley Whitney: bluetopic, 30 March - 19 May 2007

    • Artist Biography

      Stanley Whitney

      American • 1946

      Inspired by Renaissance painting, Minimalist sculpture and jazz music, Stanley Whitney’s oeuvre has become central to the current discourse of abstract painting in the contemporary era. Following recent solo exhibitions at the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, the 72-year-old artist has only just received the critical acclaim he deserves. After moving to New York from Philadelphia at the age of 22, Whitney aligned himself with the Color Field painters, often working in the shadows of his contemporaries including Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland. Throughout the decades that followed, however, the artist soon established himself as a key player in 20th century abstraction, traveling the world and gaining recognition not only in the studio, but also in the classroom, where he has taught Painting and Drawing at the Tyler School of Art for over 30 years. As such, Whitney’s influence extends to a generation of new artists exploring the formal tenants of painting today.

      As Lauren Haynes, curator of Whitney’s solo show at the Studio Museum in 2015, aptly wrote, “Whitney’s work interrogates the connections among colors, how they lead to and away from one another, what memories they are associated with…Whitney’s colors take on lives of their own. They evoke memory and nostalgia. This orange takes you back to your favorite childhood t-shirt; that blue reminds you of your grandmother’s kitchen. Whitney’s paintings remind us, on a universal scale, of the ability of color to trigger feelings and sensations.”

      View More Works

Property from a Prominent European Collection



signed, titled and dated '"Bootylicious" Jan. 2007 Stanley Whitney' on the reverse
oil on canvas
183.5 x 183.5 cm. (72 1/4 x 72 1/4 in.)
Painted in January 2007.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,700,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for HK$2,016,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 4 December 2020