PRINT September 2020


IN THE DRAWING on the cover of this issue and in the three images that follow, the pioneering artist Stanley Whitney incorporates words into his enduring compositional touchstone, the four-by-four grid, within which he carries out his virtuosic adventures with color. The result is a group of potent pictures with a potent message: No to prison life. “Creating space within color involves experiments with density, vibrancy, saturation, and even with matteness,” Whitney told the art historian Andrianna Campbell-LaFleur in 2015. “It is not just formal for me—color has great depth; it can bring up great emotion and immense feeling.” Within the framework of Whitney’s artistry, the straightforward refusal has the power of the absolute. No to prison life, these images say. But more than that, they suggest that until our jails and prisons and detention centers are shut down, until we stop enlisting the punitive to preserve our romance with safety, there is no such thing as non-prison life. The ethical imperative infuses our collective existence. We must all say no, irrevocably and unequivocally, right now.

Along with Whitney’s portfolio, Artforum this month features a conversation between writer and curator Nicole R. Fleetwood and novelist Rachel Kushner that ranges widely over the violence of mass incarceration, the reinvigorated prospects of the abolitionist project, and the art of the imprisoned—art that, Fleetwood persuasively argues, must be seen as the core of cultural production in the carceral state.

David Velasco


Stanley Whitney, Untitled (Can You Hear Us . . . ), 2020, watercolor, graphite, and crayon on paper, 10 1⁄2 × 10 1⁄2".

Stanley Whitney, Untitled (2020—Prison Voices), 2020, graphite and crayon on paper, 10 1⁄2 × 10 1⁄2".

Stanley Whitney, Untitled (Can You Hear Us—No to Prison Life), 2020, watercolor and graphite on paper, 10 1⁄2 × 10 1⁄2".