Jack Whitten

Atlanta Contemporary

It is fitting that one of the works in this group of Jack Whitten’s memorial paintings is dedicated to the art critic and ideologue Clement Greenberg, for the problematic that Greenberg judged to be central to modernist painting is palpable in Whitten’s work. Greenberg famously posited modernism as the progressive purification of each art to its essential formal characteristics; in the case of painting, this meant eschewing representation in favor of abstraction. For more than forty years, Whitten, in producing elegies to various individuals, including many African-American cultural luminaries, has returned again and again to the question of how a painting can simultaneously serve both the basic human impulse to memorialize and the tenets of modernist abstraction.

It is clear that Whitten’s memorials are largely subject-driven, as his style varies with the person represented. Least successful

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