Stanley Whitney - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, June 30, 2022 | Phillips

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  • 'I always say that the colour makes the structure, the structure doesn’t make the colour. I don’t build a structure and then fill in the colour. I wanted to devise a structure that would give me total freedom with colour.'
    —Stanley Whitney
    Unifying colour, structure, space, and rhythm within its loosely gridded composition, May Day is an absorbing example of American artist Stanley Whitney’s distinctive painterly practice. Suffused with a warm iridescence and generating an incredible sense of chromatic balance, the deceptively simple geometries at work in the compositional structure of the painting pull the eye in multiple directions at once, the artist using his characteristic grid structure to explore the spatial dimensions of colour, and of the relationships established between one hue and another. Resulting in a ‘vibrating field of chromatic energy’, Whitney here arranges rectangles of brilliantly bold colour horizontally, separated by slimmer vertical ribbons of tangerine, hunter green, and butter yellow.i While the unexpected juxtapositions exaggerate the distinctions between his shades in some instances, in other areas Whitney playfully disrupts the rigidity of the grid, the horizontal bands sharply framing some colours while bleeding into and softening the edges of others, generating an impression of light, air, and movement throughout.

     

    Beginnings

     

    An active proponent of colour field painting since the 1970s when he first developed his characteristic colour grids, Whitney is highly articulate on the art historical influences that have shaped his practice over the years, citing Pierro del Francesco, Sandro Botticelli, Piet Mondrian, and Robert Rauschenberg amongst his influences. An early encounter with a surprising Paul Cézanne on view at the Columbus Museum of Art proved highly influential, providing instructive lessons in pictorial arrangement which Whitney spliced with the improvisational structures of jazz, and the rich sense of colour and freedom that he discovered in Morris Louis’ painting.

     

    [LEFT] Paul Cézanne, Victor Chocquet assise (Victor Chocquet Seated), c. 1877, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio. Image: Photo Josse / Scala, Florence CAPTION: [RIGHT] Morris Louis, No. 34, 1961, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran. Image: © Stefano Baldini / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022
    [LEFT] Paul Cézanne, Victor Chocquet assise (Victor Chocquet Seated), c. 1877, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio. Image: Photo Josse / Scala, Florence
    [RIGHT] Morris Louis, No. 34, 1961, Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran. Image: © Stefano Baldini / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022

    Architecture and The Eternal City

     

    Currently enjoying a prominent solo exhibition in Venice running alongside the 59th International Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, Whitney often credits the time spent living and working in Italy in the 1990s as ushering in a pivotal shift in his practice. Finding himself in Rome, surrounded by the architecture of the ancient city and absorbed by the iridescent qualities of light on the stone Whitney started to develop what Louise Neri has described as the appearance of ‘a tectonic, partitioned structure, in addition to it being rhythmic and dynamic.’ii More prosaically, Whitney recalls visiting the Etruscan Museum, the stacked sarcophagi leading the artist to consider the possibilities of ‘stacking’ colour in his paintings, realising that this would allow him to ‘get to the colour immediately without having to do anything else first.’iii

    'The experience of being there, especially the ancient buildings, brought architecture into my painting. When you walk into the Roman Colosseum, you really feel, from the first brick to the last brick, how human they are.'
    —Stanley Whitney

    Somewhat paradoxically, the transition into the grid and the conception of colour as space liberated the artist, allowing him to reconcile two previously opposing poles in his practice or, as he described it in one interview ‘something as open as Pollock but as structured as Mondrian.’iv  With colour itself emerging as the organising principle in his works, Whitney reaches beyond Mondrian’s grids, focusing on the shifts between colours, and the musical call and response structures generated in his compositions. Not contained by the dicta of any strict colour theory, Whitney relies on what he terms the ‘magic’ of colour: ‘I lay a colour down and that colour calls another colour, and then it’s a balancing act. You don’t want to have something dominate something else, and you want to have good transitions.’v

     

    Piet Mondrian, Composition A, (Large Composition A with Black, Red, Grey, Yellow and Blue), 1919-1920, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome. Image: © NPL - DeA Picture Library / Bridgeman Images
    Piet Mondrian, Composition A, (Large Composition A with Black, Red, Grey, Yellow and Blue), 1919-1920, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome. Image: © NPL - DeA Picture Library / Bridgeman Images

     

    Collector’s Digest

     

    • Born in Philadelphia in 1956, and drawing on a wealth of art historical references, Stanley Whitney has played a central role in the evolution of contemporary abstract painting. 


    • Examples of his works can be found in the prestigious public collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Madazzino d’Arte Moderna, Rome; and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa. 


    • Following recent solo exhibitions at the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, Whitney is currently receiving widespread critical attention. His work is currently on display at Palazzo Tiepolo Passi, Venice, his solo exhibition The Italian Paintings running alongside the 59th International Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. 

     

     

    Stanley Whitney: Rhythm and Vision | Artist Spotlight | Gagosian Gallery, 2020 

     

    i Matthew Jeffrey Abrams, Stanley Whitney, London, 2020, p. 9.
    ii Louise Neri, ‘The Space Is In The Colour’, Gagosian Quarterly, 10 April 2020, online
    iii Stanley Whitney quoted in Louise Neri, ‘The Space Is In The Colour’, Gagosian Quarterly, 10 April 2020, online
    iv Stanley Whitney, quoted in Alteronce Gumby, ‘Oral History Project: Stanley Whitney by Alteronce Gumby’ BOMB Magazine, 21 April 2015, online
    v Stanley Whitney quoted in Alteronce Gumby, ‘Oral History Project: Stanley Whitney by Alteronce Gumby’, BOMB Magazine, 21 April 2015, online

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    • Description

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    • Provenance

      Lisson Gallery, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      London, Store X The Vinyl Factory in partnership with Lisson Gallery, Everything At Once, 5 October – 10 December 2017, p. 137 (installation view illustrated, p. 139)

    • 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.”

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14

May Day

signed and dated '2017 Stanley Whitney' on the reverse
oil on canvas
183 x 183 cm (72 x 72 in.)
Painted in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
£400,000 - 600,000 

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Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
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Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+44 20 7318 4099
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 30 June 2022