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Henry Taylor, The Love of Cousin Tip, 2017 at The Whitney

Henry Taylor Balances Empathy and Critique at The Whitney 

Erica Silverman

10 November 2023

The Whitney Debuts a Career Retrospective of Artist Henry Taylor  

Henry Taylor: B Side,” is currently on view at The Whitney in New York, the largest presentation to date of the acclaimed artist’s captivating oeuvre. Open through January 28, 2024, and sponsored by Delta, the must-see presentation was initially organized by MOCA in Los Angeles with Bennett Simpson, Senior Curator, and Anastasia Kahn, Curatorial Assistant, and is curated at The Whitney by Barbara Haskell, alongside Curatorial Assistants Colton Klein and Caroline Webb

Throughout a chromatic display of more than 130 artworks, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, and a new installation, The Whitney offers over 30 years of intuitive and poignant social commentary by the deft visionary. 

Henry Taylor, i'm yours, 2015 at The Whitney

Henry Taylor, “i’m yours,” 2015, 73 1/8 × 74 1/4 in., acrylic on canvas; © Henry Taylor, photo by Sam Kahn, courtesy of Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (acquired through the generosity of the Acquisitions Circle), the artist, and Hauser & Wirth.

The Artist’s Largest Exhibition is Inspired by the Human Condition 

“Henry Taylor is guided by his deep-seated empathy for people and their histories,” explained Haskell. “Painted with kinetic intensity from memory, newspaper clippings, snapshots, and in-person sittings, his portraits capture the humanity, social milieu, and mood of his subjects. They combine flat planes of vibrant, saturated color with areas of rich, intimate detail and loose brushstrokes to create paintings that really feel alive.” 

Deeply inspired by his family, community, and prominent cultural figures, Taylor’s unrestrained artistic experimentation and empathetic heart have produced works that unearth the collective human condition, as well as the harrowing realities of racism, while calling attention to Black ambition and triumph. Arranged thematically, the artist’s primary influences are placed in enchanting and meaningful conversation. 

Henry Taylor, It's H. I. M., 2012 at The Whtiney

Henry Taylor, “It’s H. I. M.,” 2012, 84 × 72 in., acrylic on canvas; © Henry Taylor, photo by Sam Kahn, courtesy of the Collection of Amy and Harris Schwalb, the artist, and Hauser & Wirth.

Drawing from his time working as a psychiatric technician at Camarillo State Mental Hospital from 1984 to 1995, as well as a student of Oxnard Community College and the California Institute of the Arts, Taylor reveals little-seen pencil sketches, notable for their sensitivity and compassion towards his patients. The artist’s passionate exploration of themes and compositions is evident in the small-scale painted objects he created in the early 1990s, using everyday materials including cigarette cartons, cereal boxes, and butter containers as avant-garde canvases. 

Henry Taylor’s Portraits of Family, Community, and Icons Connect in Profound Ways

Intimate pieces, including Man, I’m so full of doubt, but I must Hustle Forward, as my daughter Jade would say (2020) speak to the artist’s relationship with his children, juxtaposed with i’m yours (2015) and The Love of Cousin Tip (2017), paintings created from photographs, memory, and in-person sittings. Portraits of modern luminaries, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Michelle and Barack Obama, connect to paintings of the heinous murder of young people by police, culminating in a chilling discourse. Inventive portraits and reinterpretations of Taylor’s art-historical influences can be seen in pieces such as Hammons meets a hyena on holiday (2016) and Portrait of Kahlil Joseph (2019), evoking the creative’s enduring attachment to the global art landscape. A riveting series of public programs, as well as an exhibition catalog, accompanies the presentation. 

Henry Taylor, Untitled, 2020 at The Whitney

Henry Taylor, “Untitled,” 2020, 60 1/8 × 84 1/8 in., acrylic on canvas; © Henry Taylor, photo by Zachary Balber, courtesy of a private collection, the artist, and Hauser & Wirth.

“We are honored to welcome Henry Taylor back to the Whitney after his significant appearances in our Biennial and collection galleries,” said Scott Rothkopf, Senior Deputy Director and Nancy and Steve Crown Family Chief Curator. “His paintings brilliantly balance a sense of tenderness, care, and community with keen wit, pointed critique, and a sense of broad social awareness.” 

Henry Taylor, Untitled, 2021 at The Whitney

Henry Taylor, “Untitled,” 2021, 74 1/2 × 28 5/8 × 18 1/4 in., mixed media; © Henry Taylor, photo by Ken Adlard, courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

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