From early breakthroughs to mature formal experiments, How High the Moon is the first retrospective to trace the evolution of Stanley Whitney’s wholly unique and powerful abstractions over the course of his 50-year career. The exhibition’s title is inspired by the 1940 song penned by Nancy Hamilton and Morgan Lewis, which became a jazz standard that has conveyed enchantment, longing, and, in some interpretations, has reached for the sublime.
Since he began making them in 2002, Whitney’s square-format, loosely gridded abstract canvases have increasingly captured the imagination of viewers. Each contains four horizontal rows of alternately askant and ordered squares painted in varying degrees of opacity. While Whitney’s format has remained consistent over the past twenty years, no painting is the same as another. As he builds these immersive abstractions, Whitney holds space for his viewers to focus not on each painting’s subject, but rather on our own response to color.
How High the Moon features extensive installations of the artist’s improvisatory small paintings; his drawings and prints, which constitute their own important practice for Whitney; and a chronological selection of the artist’s sketchbooks spanning from 1987 to 2021, which offer a view into Whitney’s engagement with the written word as well as politics. Throughout, his work is put in the context of his diverse sources of inspiration, which include music, poetry, American quilts, and the history of art and architecture, among many others.
Whitney’s powerful, color-saturated abstractions give viewers the space to feel what it means to be human, to mentally wander, and to gather the strength to survive. This touring retrospective, the first survey of Whitney’s work ever assembled, demonstrates the true height of his achievement.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website