Jack Whitten: The Greek Alphabet Painting

Dia Beacon, New York, United States
18 Nov 2022 - 10 Jul 2023

Jack Whitten, Eta Group IV (Detail), 1976. Private Collection. © Jack Whitten Estate. Courtesy Jack Whitten Estate and Hauser & Wirth

Jack Whitten, Eta Group IV (Detail), 1976. Private Collection. © Jack Whitten Estate. Courtesy Jack Whitten Estate and Hauser & Wirth

Opening at Dia Beacon this fall is the first-ever exhibition devoted to Jack Whitten’s Greek Alphabet painting series (1975–78). Assembling forty works from private and institutional lenders, this exhibition offers unique insight into a pivotal moment in Whitten’s practice. Jack Whitten: The Greek Alphabet Series opens on November 18, 2022, and remains on view until July 10, 2023.

“Remarkably, this is the first time that more than a handful of works from Whitten’s seminal Greek Alphabet series have been publicly displayed together. The exhibition is the result of years of curatorial research to retrace the contours of the series and locate the individual paintings. It is only in seeing such a significant number of them assembled, as the artist intended, that one can appreciate the formal and material permutations of the series,” said Jessica Morgan, Dia’s Nathalie de Gunzburg director.

Over a career of more than fifty years, Whitten developed a painting language equally driven by concept and process and characterized by material experimentation, dense luminosities, and multidimensionality. His work from the 1970s marks a juncture in his career in which he rejected the gestural brushstrokes of Abstract Expressionism and embarked on what would become a sustained interest in experimental processes and materials.

Realized in his studio in downtown New York, the series consists of variations on predominantly black- and-white abstract compositions ordered per the twenty-four letters of the Greek alphabet. The paintings’ complex surfaces, which the artist equated to a weaving of light, resulted from involved experiments with tools including handmade rakes and combs and processes such as imprinting and frottage. Whitten never had an opportunity to present the Greek Alphabet series in full; of the nearly 60 works in the series, only a few have ever been publicly exhibited.

The exhibition is accompanied by a book of the same title published by Dia. This illustrated publication will feature new essays by Donna De Salvo and Matilde Guidelli-Guidi, the exhibition’s curators; the scholar Courtney J. Martin; the artist Gregg Bordowitz; and the poet and theorist Fred Moten. Whitten’s own charismatic voice and expansive thinking are present in the form of previously unpublished writings, interviews, and archival materials, selected and annotated by Guidelli-Guidi with Janine DeFeo.
In response to the formal qualities of the series, and to honor Whitten’s long-standing interest in experimental music, Dia has invited trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith to musically interpret the paintings. This rare performance by one of the foremost figures in contemporary music will take place in the galleries on December 3, 2022, at 2 pm.