Untitled, 2010. Collection of the artist. Photograph by Lothar Schnepf.


NEW YORK - To those of us who are, ahem, 40 and (slightly!) above, it can be disconcerting when a mere 40-year-old gets a huge retrospective at a major museum. It might make you think: Already? So soon?

The “Wade Guyton: OS” show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, on view through 13 January, features just such a precocious talent. The New York–based Guyton has made his mark by getting Epson inkjet printers to do things that they were not intended to do – like print 8-foot-high ravishing shapes on linen. “OS” means operating system of course, and Guyton has attracted a lot of attention by employing a retro-techno approach (ink-jet sounds very 1995) to make what is essentially classic abstract art.

Wade Guyton, Untitled (Martin Kippenberger,,,Kindliches Lächeln nach einer blöden Antwort," 1960, Foto Gerd Kippenberger 16), 2004. Collection of Gregory R. Miller and Michael Wiener. ©Wade Guyton. Photograph by Ron Amstutz.

His repeating forms – particularly a lot of huge ‘X’s and ‘U’s – packed a wallop when I saw the show. So I called up Donna DeSalvo, the Whitney’s chief curator and deputy director, to help me place this show in the context of the museum’s history.

“It’s part of a long tradition giving artists a big show early,” she told me. She rattled off a list of other artists who had gotten shows around this age: Helen Frankenthaler, Donald Judd, Richard Tuttle, Lucas Samaras. Quite a lineup.

Wade Guyton, U Sculpture (v. 6), 2007. Collection of the artist. ©Wade Guyton. Photograph by Ron Amstutz.

Something in Guyton’s approach to abstraction made me think of the masters Sol LeWitt and Ellsworth Kelly; I interviewed the latter artist last year at his studio.

“That’s an interesting connection,” DeSalvo said. “With Ellsworth, you see him looking to everyday life for his inspiration” – specifically, natural forms like plants, shadows and clouds. “For Wade, these printers are something with an everyday quality.” The source material may be different, but these artists are engaged in a similar project, taking the seemingly mundane and revealing another level of meaning.

“When you look at this work, you get beauty and transcendence,” DeSalvo said. “The same words you’d use to describe these much earlier artists. There’s a persistence in the language of abstraction that is fascinating. It’s very much alive.”