Painter Jack Whitten, an ‘Artist of Endless Inventiveness,’ Has Died at Age 78

The artist will be the subject of major museum surveys this year at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum.

Jack Whitten in his studio, 2016. Photo by Taylor Dafoe.

The painter Jack Whitten died this past weekend, his gallery Hauser & Wirth has confirmed. He was 78. 

Despite making his first mature paintings in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Whitten’s work wasn’t widely recognized until the past decade—and 2018 is expected to be the biggest year in his career yet. A major survey of his work“Odyssey: Jack Whitten Sculpture, 1965–2017,” will open at the Baltimore Museum of Art in April before traveling to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The survey’s title, “Odyssey,” is an apt description of Whitten’s 50-plus-year career, which has restlessly reinvented itself in abstract expressionism, formalism, and many other styles.

“He was a remarkable man—an artist of endless inventiveness, originality, and honesty, as well as a wonderful friend,” said Marc Payot, partner and vice president of Hauser & Wirth, in a statement. “His intelligence, compassion, and love for life have influenced all of us who knew and worked with him. Our hearts are with Jack’s family at this time.”

Born in Bessemer, Alabama, in 1939, Whitten briefly studied at Southern University in Baton Rouge before departing for New York, where he attended the Cooper Union, graduating in 1964. 

After nine years of working with Alexander Gray Associates in New York, Whitten joined Hauser & Wirth in the spring of 2016. His first show with the gallery opened at Hauser & Wirth’s New York space nearly a year ago today, while a follow-up exhibition, titled “More Dimensions Than You Know: Jack Whitten, 1979–1989,” opened at the gallery’s London branch in September. His work was also included in Tate Modern’s extensive survey of African American artists, “Soul of a Nation,” last year.

A previous survey of Whitten’s work, organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, toured the US from 2014 to 2016, ending its run at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. 

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