Jack Whitten (b. 1939)
Property of Cleveland Clinic, Sold to Benefit the Art Acquisitions Fund
Jack Whitten (b. 1939)

Midnight Stripper

Jack Whitten (b. 1939)
Midnight Stripper
signed, titled and dated 'MIDNIGHT STRIPPER J Whitten 1973' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
90 x 120 in. (228.6 x 304.8 cm.)
Painted in 1973.
Poindexter Gallery, New York
Collection of Frank and Nancy Porter, Cleveland
Acquired from the above by the present owner
F. Bowling, "A Modest Proposal," Arts Magazine, February 1973, p. 57 (illustrated).
L. Goldberg, "A Renewal of Possibilities," Arts Magazine, March 1973, pp. 34-35.
New York, Poindexter Gallery, Four Painters: Jake Berthot, Gary Hudson, Harvey Quaytman, Jack Whitten, 1973.

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Celine Cunha
Celine Cunha

Lot Essay

Through an exploration of the possibilities of paint, Midnight Stripper presents us with a complex multidimensional canvas that obscures our understanding of a two-dimensional work of art. Midnight Stripper reveals Whitten’s interest in process and technique as well as the conceptual underpinnings of abstraction.

Through manipulation of acrylic, Whitten transforms the canvas into a nuanced and richly textured surface, producing a visceral quality that compels the viewer to engage with this monumental work on a more intimate level. Up close, Midnight Stripper presents a richly textured surface that solicits our desire to touch the painting. The emotive power of the work is further funneled through Whitten’s articulation of color. The stark contrast between the lustrous deep violet and the thin line of bright orange, which is highlighted throughout, causes an optical vibration that destabilizes the viewer in an intoxication of the senses.

Beyond the formal and technical exploration of the possibilities of the material, Whitten investigates conceptual issues of the alluring essence of a work of art and the role of the artist. In Midnight Stripper, Whitten prompts a sensational tension between the viewer’s desire to physically interact with the canvas and the formal edict of looking at art, which proscribes such engagement. Through this quasi-visual act of seduction, this work simulates the fetishism and spectacle of a stripper at midnight.

Whitten derives his artistic approach from the engagement with his surroundings, especially in the sphere of popular culture. He forgoes realistic representations, transforming the ‘actual’ as a means of embracing the world in front of him, finding a metaphysical in the everyday. Whitten’s poetic abstraction retains an immediacy that continues to endure even three decades since it was realized.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Whitten’s work drew inspiration from the visual aesthetics of the Abstract Expressionists, many of whom the artist knew personally. Whitten’s commitment to forming his own unique style came from his emphasis on popular culture and the urban environment. In the early seventies, Whitten’s paintings were strongly governed by the instantaneousness of photographic processes. According to Whitten, “when I was doing those paintings, to place the paint in a split second—the whole painting was conceived as one line, the painting as a gesture.” (J. Whitten, quoted in K. Goldsmith ‘Jack Whitten’, BOMB Magazine [bombmagazine.com], accessed August 20, 2015). Though Whitten realized each painting over an extended period of time, physically building it up the layers, dragging the medium backwards and forwards, it was the one moment that defined the final picture. Amplifying the gesture of the Abstract Expressionists, Whitten employed a twelve-foot wide tool of his own design, raking the paint across the entire plane of the canvas. For Whitten, the tool mediates his hand and the painting, functioning as an extension of his body. As a result, Midnight Stripper at once disavowals realistic details, but is deeply infused with a tremendous liveliness.

Since the 1960s abstraction has dominated Whitten’s artistic practice. It was during the 1970s, however, when Whitten mastered his experiment abstract vocabulary, which benchmarked a turning point in the artist’s career as it prompted crucial institutional recognition of Whitten’s work in New York, first with the Whitney Museum of American Art solo exhibition. Today, the Whitney, Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art all hold paintings by Whitten in their permanent collections.

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