Remembering Robert Whitman

Published On Sunday, Feb 11, 2024

A pioneer of performance and multimedia installation work, Whitman devoted his career to extending the boundaries of art as we know it. He was a seminal figure in the performances called Happenings—a hybrid art form spanning installation, performance, and other mediums—presented in New York in the early 1960s by a group of artists that also included Claes Oldenburg, Allan Kaprow, Jim Dine, and Red Grooms, and he was also at the vanguard of scientifically and technologically engaged art making during this period, having co-founded, with artist Robert Rauschenberg, the Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), a collective that supported creative partnerships between artists and engineers, in 1967.

That same year, in 1967, he had his first solo exhibition with Pace at its West 57th Street gallery in New York. Titled Robert Whitman: Dark, the show featured two laser installations that Whitman created in collaboration with Eric Rawson, an engineer with Bell Telephone Laboratories: Wavy Red Line, in which a spinning red laser produced a fixed red line, growing and shrinking at specific intervals across four walls, and Solid Red Line, in which a laser drew itself around the four walls and, when it met its end, erased itself.