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Stanley Whitney protests mass incarceration in an exhibition presented by Lisson Gallery and collector Agnes Gund.

Daria Simone Harper
Jul 14, 2020 4:38PM, via ARTnews

Stanley Whitney, Untitled (No to Prison Life), 2020. © Stanley Whitney

The Lisson Gallery and collector Agnes Gund have teamed up with Stanley Whitney to present a special online exhibition of new works by the artist, sales of which will support efforts to reform the criminal justice system in the United States. The online show, “Stanley Whitney: No to Prison Life,” opened yesterday and runs through July 26th—paying tribute to International Justice Day, July 17th. The exhibition is the artist’s protest against the U.S. judicial system's endorsement of arrest, incarceration, and especially the disproportionate number of imprisoned Black Americans. Ten percent of proceeds from the sale of each work in the exhibition will go to the Art for Justice Fund, an organization founded in 2017 by Gund to advocate for criminal justice reform.

Whitney told ARTnews:

I remember in 1971 during the prison revolt at Attica, I was at Yale and we didn’t hear too much about it. I can make this work now because I have enough power to do it and no one can tell me anything. When these drawings go out in the world I can have that conversation, I can bring that conversation in.

Best known for his brilliantly colored, geometric paintings, Whitney garners inspiration from historical and contemporary references, including jazz music and Abstract Expressionism. The exhibition features 13 new works, many of which were made while Whitney was quarantined in New York. One graphite-on-paper work, Untitled (Always Running from the Police – NYC 2020) (2020), was drawn in the midst of the global protests condemning police brutality. Whitney has incorporated the phrase “No to Prison Life” into past work, including for his first public commission, “Project Wall: Stanley Whitney” (2019), at the Kansas City Art Institute (the artist’s alma mater).

Gund spoke of Whitney’s work in a press release, stating:

When I first saw a painting from his “No to Prison Life” series some five years ago, I was deeply moved. Stanley’s insertion of text altered my reaction to the work. Suddenly, the primordial grids and abstract shapes were transformed into a claustrophobic and locked cell. His demand for justice and accountability forbid viewers from looking away.
Daria Simone Harper
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