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Memory Garden

Memory Garden
signed, titled and dated ‘“Memory Garden” 2020 Stanley Whitney’ (on the reverse)
oil on linen
72 x 72in. (182.9 x 182.9cm.)
Painted in 2020
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2021.
Los Angeles, Matthew Marks Gallery, Stanley Whitney: How Black is That Blue, 2021.
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Director, Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

Rendered on an immersive 72-by-72-inch scale—among Stanley Whitney’s larger formats—Memory Garden is a glowing instance of his celebrated chromatic language. Painted in 2020, it offers a veritable symphony of colour, articulated in the loose square grid that represents his signature structure. Bricks of blush pink, forest green and azure blue quiver alongside black, yellow and red, each of the four rows divided by a horizontal coloured strip. Whitney paints each block with gestural, intuitive brushwork, allowing light to seep through the structure and edges to bleed into one another’s territory. Currently the subject of a major exhibition at the Palazzo Tiepolo Passi, mounted to coincide with the 2022 Venice Biennale, Whitney combines influences ranging from art history and architecture to experimental jazz, underpinned by a deep sensitivity to the complexities of colour. He stands today at the forefront of contemporary abstraction, with his first museum retrospective scheduled for 2024 at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum.

Though the last five years have seen Whitney take his place on the global stage—with shows at the Studio Museum, Harlem, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas and Documenta 14, among others—his artistic roots stretch back to 1960s New York, where he first arrived as a student. Raised in a small African American community in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Whitney had previously studied at Columbus College of Art and Design and Kansas City Art Institute, drawing early inspiration from the works of Paul Cézanne and Edvard Munch while absorbing the rhythms of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and others. By the time he arrived in New York in 1968—first attending the Studio School, before transferring to Yale School of Art—his attention was beginning to turn towards the painters of his time. Abstract Expressionism was still exerting a powerful influence upon the city’s art scene, and artists such as Philip Guston, Morris Louis, Barnett Newman and others enlivened Whitney’s imagination. He would come to identify deeply with New York, later explaining that the collision of gridded order and chromatic cacophony in his paintings shared much in common with the city’s own dynamics: Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-43) remained something of a touchstone in this regard.

It was not until the 1990s, however, that Whitney’s paintings began to move towards the format seen in the present work. Travels in Italy and Egypt during this period brought about a significant shift in his practice, with structures such as the Colosseum, the pyramids and the Palazzo Farnese inspiring him to think of his paintings in more architectural terms. Moving away from the discrete dots and patches that defined his earlier oeuvre, Whitney began to compose his works from interlocking planes; later, the addition of the square format would help to cement this move, allowing him to fully reject the ‘landscape’ connotations of his previous work. Whitney would subsequently re-introduce the horizontal dimension in the form of the thin strips that divide his grids of colour, creating a scintillating push and pull between tones. For all his formal innovation, however, the artist remained true to his origins, continuing to explore the lessons of Colour Field painting and Modernism, and allowing his colour schemes to unfold with the improvisatory logic of his jazz heroes. The present work’s title, Memory Garden, is particularly evocative in this sense: personal and painterly histories collide in the work’s depths, aglow with the light of a life lived in art.

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