new-york

Stanley Whitney

Esso Gallery

Someone’s always ready to lay down the law for abstract painting—to let it know what it’s not allowed to do. Most recently, I’ve noticed art historian Eric de Chassey refusing it the one possibility that used to be considered its very essence: Abstraction is alive and well, he claims, but what’s now taboo is “restricting oneself to purportedly ‘pure painting’ or ‘painting-as-painting.’” Yet what’s “restricting” for many artists may be perfect freedom for others. Such would seem to be the case with Stanley Whitney and his exuberantly unadulterated abstraction.

I’ve always admired Whitney’s paintings taken one by one. What I’ve never been able to quite wrap my head around is his persistence in using the same format in each canvas for so many years—his apparent refusal of any overt development. Each of his paintings is landscape format or square, and the overwhelming majority are composed of

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