From March 29 to September 1, 2019 the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin will present a comprehensive exhibition of works by the American painter Jack Whitten (1939–2018), the first solo show by the artist in a European museum. Jack’s Jacks, which was conceived in close collaboration with the artist, shows how Whitten, over a period of more than five decades, continually extended the boundaries of abstract painting. The exhibition focuses on works dedicated to historical events and prominent figures, offering a personal perspective on the history and people that surrounded Whitten, and the influence they had on his thought and development as an artist.
Born in 1939 in Bessemer, Alabama, Jack Whitten came of age in the Southern States of the United States of America under laws enforcing racial segregation, a social reality that he described as “American Apartheid”. In 1960, he moved to New York and enrolled in a Visual Arts course at Cooper Union. In Manhattan Whitten met with key protagonists of the Abstract Expressionist movement, including Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. He also became good friends with fellow African American artists Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence and Norman Lewis, who were strong supporters of Whitten. His works of this period, paintings influenced by Surrealism and the spontaneous gestural abstraction of the New York school, were primarily explorations of the artist’s own identity. Aside from a keen interest in the work of his contemporaries and the history of art, Whitten studied philosophy, psychology, and African sculpture, as well as the natural sciences and the latest technological developments. These different strands of Whitten’s thinking came together in his painterly work along with a further important influence: jazz music. Whitten would regularly visit concerts in the clubs of the thrilling and progressive music scene of New York City and met musicians such as Max Roach, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Ornette Coleman to name a few.