PACE Gallery has announced the death of Robert Whitman at the age of 88

Author Anzhela Popova
Category Art, Columnists, Culture, People, Town
Date January 30 2024
Reading Time 2 min.

PACE Gallery has announced the death of Robert Whitman at the age of 88

Robert Whitman, an American multimedia artist, was best known for his Happenings and performances of the early 1960s that combined visual and sound imagery.

“Action painting” by Jackson Pollock encouraged a group of young artists Robert Whitman, Allan Kaprow, Claes Oldenburg, Al Hansen, Red Grooms and Jim Dean to form a new movement in contemporary art between 1959-1963.

“The thing that interests me most about theatre is that it takes time. Time is the key material for me” – Robert Whitman.

Robert Whitman, who aspired to be a playwright early on, described his first works as theatre pieces. In 1960, at the Rueben Gallery, in a dilapidated attic at the south end of Fourth Avenue in Manhattan, he presented his first major performance, American Moon: a series of wordless, atavistic acts among humble materials: sawdust, crumpled paper, and burlap.

Robert Whitman’s first Happening, “American Moon,” Rueben Gallery, 1960, Manhattan.

In Bathroom Sink (1964), Whitman experimented with projected images. A sink and a mirror were mounted on the same wall while the projection reflected off the mirror, which showed a woman going through her morning routine in the bathroom. As the viewer walked between the sink/mirror and the projection, they became part of the work.

In 1965, Whitman debuted Prune Flat, a work that included both live actors and projections. Prune Flatwas presented in several Broadway theaters. In 1967, Whitman showed his first solo exhibitionThe Wavy Red Line at the PACE Gallery. The exhibition consisted of a “dancing” red laser that was projected onto the walls of the gallery. Whitman created this work in collaboration with Eric Rawson, an engineer at Bell Labs.

Installation by Robert Whitman, PACE Gallery, New York,
26 October – 21 December 2018. © Robert Whitman
26 октября – 21 декабря 2018 г. © Роберт Уитмен

Whitman was a long-time collaborator with optical scientist John Forkner. Their work together began by combining a mirror, light, and sound installation for the Art and Technology exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1971. They developed an optical system that allowed real images to float in space. The images appeared and disappeared in a space consisting of wall-mounted 6-inch angled projectors in which visitors saw multiple images of themselves.

Whitman co-founded Experiments in Art and Technology with engineers Billy Kluwer, Fred Waldhauer, and artist Robert Rauschenberg. The artist was given access to new technologies, so he spent a lot of time in research institutes and laboratories.

Artist Robert Whitman at PACE Gallery, Manhattan, January, 2023.

Robert Whitman created over forty works, nine of which, spanning from 1976 to 1983, were created with the support of the Dia Art Foundation. Whitman’s work is in numerous collections worldwide, including Center Pompidou, Paris; Dia Art Foundation, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, and many others.