Lisson Gallery

'Artist Stanley Whitney’s Triumphant Return': WSJ Magazine

16 April 2022

In the 1990s, Whitney left an indifferent New York art scene and found refuge in Italy. He’s gone back continually since then, and his new show in Venice, timed to the Biennale, reveals how these sojourns inspired his artistic breakthrough.

As soon as pandemic-related travel restrictions lifted last year, New York painter Stanley Whitney felt a familiar pull to see the place that helped make him: Italy.

The 75-year-old abstract painter, whose career has lately enjoyed a critical and commercial revival, headed to Rome, where decades earlier he had moved for a few years with his wife, Marina Adams, also an artist. This time around, the couple spotted shops that had shuttered since they were last in the country, and they ate at standbys like La Carbonara, whose late owner once knew them well. They ducked into churches to see Caravaggios still hanging in dim alcoves, and one night they stood outside the Pantheon, the ancient former temple where, Whitney notes, Raphael is buried. The Eternal City still felt traumatized by the health crisis, he says, but being back made him feel better, with good reason.

“You know when you leave a city, it changes—but the streets stay the same, so you can go back and miss the old days,” Whitney says. “That’s why you feel nostalgic. You just miss who you were back then.”

When Whitney moved from New York City to Italy in 1992 to teach art, he was a relatively obscure abstract painter at a time when conceptual art held sway. Today, his career is skyrocketing. His signature grids of multicolored blocks in seemingly endless configurations have been collected by more than 20 museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Collectors at auction have paid as much as $2.3 million for Whitney’s art, with a 2005 example, Great Balls of Fire, selling in early March at Christie’s in London for $2 million, more than doubling its high estimate. In 2024, the painter will have his first retrospective, at the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, formerly known as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in Buffalo, New York.

From April 20, curators organizing his retrospective are also offering the public a rare early peek of their findings by installing around 50 of Whitney’s works in Venice’s Palazzo Tiepolo Passi, a 16th-century palace, to coincide with the Venice Biennale. The show will span works he painted there between 1992 and 2017 during early teaching stints and, later, at a farmhouse studio he and Adams own near Parma. Many of the canvases and nearly all the sketchbooks in the show have never been seen publicly until now.

“The Italian Paintings” will also for the first time focus on the little-known role Italy played in catalyzing Whitney’s artistic breakthrough, says Cathleen Chaffee, the chief curator at Buffalo co-organizing the Venice show. Abstract shapes in rainbow colors have long been his constant, but the Venice show explores how Italian architecture clarified his thinking about how to line up shapes differently. “I look at his works often as if they’re windows,” Chaffee adds.

Read the full feature by Kelly Crow in The Wall Street Journal here.

'Stanley Whitney: The Italian Paintings' is a Collateral Event at the 59th International Art Exhibition—La Biennale di Venezia, on view from 23 April - 27 November 2022.

The exhibition precedes a major survey exhibition at the Buffalo AKG in Buffalo, NY, USA in 2024 organized by Cathleen Chaffee, Chief Curator. Stanley Whitney: The Italian Paintings at Palazzo Tiepolo Passi is supported by Lisson Gallery.

'Artist Stanley Whitney’s Triumphant Return': WSJ Magazine
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