Indepth Arts News: |
"Playback: A Retrospective of Work by Robert Whitman"
2003-03-06 until 2003-06-15
Dia Center for the Arts
New York, NY,
Beginning March 6, 2003, Dia will present "Playback," the first
retrospective exhibition of the work of Robert Whitman, a
leading exponent of performance art in the 1960s and 1970s. The
exhibition brings together a selection of Whitman's key works
from the early 1960s to late 1970s, including sculpture
incorporating projected film, a laser piece, a multi-projection
film installation, and a suite of double-sided drawings.
Pioneering in its use of media as art material, Whitman's
performance work is among the most influential of its period.
His involvement with multi-media performance-based works began
in 1960 when, together with fellow artists Allan Kaprow, Jim
Dine, Claes Oldenburg, and others, he first exhibited in such
experimental New York City venues as the Hansa and Reuben
"Playback" includes four of Whitman's key sculptures that
combine an ordinary object with a film projection. In "Window"
(1963), a window reveals a nude woman glimpsed in a landscape.
In "Bathroom Sink" (1964) the viewer's reflection is shown
alongside that of a woman at her toilette.
Whitman was among the first artists to incorporate laser
technology into his art. Among his works included in the
exhibition "Dark," at PaceWildenstein in New York in 1967, was
one in which a thin red line draws and then erases itself,
mapping the gallery space in a continuous loop. This innovative
work will be reconstructed for "Playback."
Whitman's monumental suite titled "Dante Drawings" (1975-77),
now in Dia's collection, will be exhibited for the first time.
Comprising twenty-seven double-sided drawings, it takes as its
subject Dante's elusive vision of Paradise, deemed by Dante
resistant both to imagining and to memorizing.
Whitman's theater work has involved fantastical and haunting
visual imagery that does not adhere to traditional literary
devices of plot, narrative, or other text-based schema. In fall
2003, Dia will restage "Prune Flat" (1965), his most celebrated
work in this idiom, which explores the intersection of cinema
and theater. Accompanying it will be the less well known "Light
Touch" (1976), which transforms its milieu into a hallucinatory
hybrid of the actual and illusory. Early in its history, in
April-May 1976, Dia presented a retrospective of Whitman's
performance pieces, titled "Theater Works 1960-1976," which
incorporated both of these works. Later, with support from Dia
Art Foundation, Whitman designed a performance space in New York
City (in the building today owned by the Kitchen) to accommodate
innovative performance-based work. Several of his subsequent
theater works were presented in that space in the early 1980s.
Together with Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Kluver, Whitman
spearheaded the collaborations among artists, engineers,
technicians, and scientists that resulted in the formation of
E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology) and the legendary "9
Evenings: Theater and Engineering" at the 69th Regiment Armory
in New York City in 1966. He subsequently devised work for the
landmark Pepsi Pavilion at Expo 70, in Osaka, Japan (1970), and
"Art & Technology Show," at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
By surveying this influential period of Whitman's career, and
offering works rarely, if ever, exhibited, "Playback" makes a
claim not only for the historical prescience of Whitman's works,
but for their timeliness in an aesthetic climate now riven by
the introduction of new technologies. In addition, the
exhibition offers Whitman's practice as a paradigm for a mode of
invention that ultimately relies less on technical wizardry than
on an ingenious poetic resourcefulness.