DAVID WHITNEY OBITUARY
(Photo: David McCabe 1965)
David Whitney passed away on Sunday, June 12, 2005 of lung and bone cancer at the age of 66. Whitney was an art collector, curator, and the long-time companion of architect Philip Johnson who died earlier this year (see January 2005). Whitney was also a friend and confidante of Andy Warhol and often joked about marrying him.Andy Warhol [January 12, 1987]: "“Went to Castellano’s for dinner (cab $6) with David Whitney, but without Philip who was off having dinner with some swells. And David still reminds me that he wants us to get married, and now that I hear how many Jasper Johnses he has, it would be really worth it." (AWD791)
David Whitney first met Philip Johnson in 1960. Johnson, who was 33 years older than Whitney, was giving a lecture at Brown University attended by David who was a studying architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design at the time. After the lecture David approached Philip who invited him to visit his famous Glass House in New Canann Connecticut. Whitney later remarked to a journalist from W magazine, "I was just legal," referring to the first weekend he spent with Johnson at the Glass House.
In May 1965 Whitney participated in Claes Oldenburg's Washes - a "Happening" which took place at the swimming pool of Al Roon's Health Club in the basement of the Riverside Plaza Hotel on West 73rd Street. Other participants included Al Hansen, Alex Hay, Henry Geldzahler and Sarah Dalton with impromptu performances by Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein in the pool. Photographer David McCabe was also there taking pictures and David Dalton recalled the event in the book, A Year in the Life of Andy Warhol:
"In Part Nine, 'Letty [Wisenhauer],... rises from her position seated at the shallow edge and enters the water with the aid of David [Whitney] on the shallow ladder... David, who during the performance has cut his clothes off, walks into the water in his bathing suit and swims up to and around Letty. After a moment of letting her float, he begins biting the balloons, holding them so that they pop with a loud sound that resounds in the hall. He bites one balloon after another until all are bitten and broken and Letty sinks.' "
In regard to appearing naked in Washes, David Whitney later commented: "Everybody wanted to be the star, so I just decided to upstage them and take my clothes off." (N.Y. Times 6/14/05)
Andy Warhol attended Washes, accompanied by Factory photographer Billy Name who also took pictures of the event:Billy Name: "An Oldenburg happening is something that no one in the art world would miss at that time. It was actually a post-happenings period event, so less grungy and more upper class, being in a commercial setting, the Al Roon Health Club. So naturally you would find Jane Holzer and the upper east side crowd attending. David Whitney was for Andy Warhol what you might call an 'art buddy'. He was a happy, good-looking art world playboy and had the best connections (partnered with Philip Johnson). I knew Claes well from pre-factory downtown happenings and his art 'store' and 'Ray Gun factory', and so I accompanied Andy to the site, with my camera. although all the 'happenings events' had been sketchily pre-planned, the crowd that turned out (around the very large swimming pool) was so large that it was difficult to maneuver and everything seemed to happen very haphazardly, more like a private party where people jumped into the pool fully clothed just for fun. It was ritzy and glitzy with the hoi polloi of the day. Andy took it all in with smiles and 'oh, hi's', and David was at his prime clowning around and showing off. A great memory from a great time."
Artist Mark Lancaster, who appeared in several of Warhol's early films and later worked for Jasper Johns, also remembers his friend David Whitney:
Philip Johnson (L), Jasper Johns and David Whitney
in front of the Glass House (Photo: Mark Lancaster)
(A further selection of photos appears here.)
Mark Lancaster: "I first met David Whitney briefly in 1964 when he came to the Factory, and Andy told me he was Philip's boyfriend. Later in the 60s David worked for Jasper Johns, who actually worked in David's loft on Canal Street in 1967 while his Houston Street building was being renovated. I first visited Philip and David at the Glass House in 1968. They would give great luncheons there and picnics. At a party for Merce Cunningham, Henry Geldzahler introduced Fred Hughes to Andy Warhol.
David and I worked together on the Whitney Museum retrospective of Jasper Johns in 1976-78. He and David White traveled with the show around the world and we went to all the openings. Then we worked together on the book Jasper Johns Drawings 1954-84 with text by David Shapiro, published by Abrams in 1984.
In recent years we would meet at the MoMA cafe now and then, and go up to their apartment in the Museum Tower to see Philip. David was a great guy, he could be acerbic and crazy and funny all at the same time, and he was extraordinarily knowledgeable - he was close to Jasper, Cy Twombly, Andy of course, and many others including younger artists such as Andrew Lord - he had a passion for ceramics of many kinds, and for his garden.
The last time I saw him was by accident in New Canaan- he was coming out of the bookshop and I asked him what he had bought. It was Natalie - the Natalie Wood Story. We laughed, and went to say hello to Philip, then 96, who was in the car with the dogs."
During the 1980s, Whitney bought his own house across from Johnson's Glass House and in 2000 purchased a ranch house in Big Sur, California. He was an avid gardener, having become interested in it as a child. In 2004 he curated Willem de Kooning: A Centennial Exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in New York.
Whitney is survived by a sister, Anne Norsworthy of Acton, Massachusetts and a brother, George Clarkson Whitney, of Greer, South Carolina.
Philip Johnson and David Whitney ca. 2000
(Photo: Mariana Cook)