“I’m not a narrative painter,” said the Black artist Jack Whitten, who died in 2018. “I don’t do the idea or the painting being the illustration of an idea. It’s all about the materiality of the paint.” Whitten was born in Alabama in 1939, just as W.W. II was beginning. He came of age as the civil rights movement gained momentum. He believed in Martin Luther King Jr. and in Black culture, but he moved to New York City in 1960, to escape the hatred of Southern segregationists. Not one to follow trends in art, Whitten was more interested in creating work that blurred distinctions between sculpture and painting. He poured acrylic paint on bottle caps, cardboard, and discarded plastic and fitted the units to canvas. He cut “tiles” out of hardened paint and pieced together “mosaics.” The mesmerizing results saw abstraction imbued with history, spirituality. In Whitten’s first solo show in Asia, rarely seen sculptures, paintings, and works on paper—from the 1960s to the 2010s—are on view. —E.C.
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