STUART COMER: I’m Stuart Comer, and I have been asked to curate the third floor here at the Whitney Museum. When I was asked to be a part of this exhibition I was still living in London, where I had been based for the last thirteen years until I returned to New York in September 2013. And maybe because of this, I became particularly interested in slightly external points of view to the United States. And Etel Adnan emerged as a figure who really became very important for how I began to think about the exhibition.


She herself was born in Beirut but has always been fairly migratory. She’s lived all over the world, but primarily in Beirut, Paris, and northern California, where she taught for several decades, until recently, when she’s been primarily based in Paris. And Etel is largely better known as a writer, she’s a major figure in Arab poetry and literature, but in the last few years there’s been a strong rediscovery of her painting practice as well.


And because Etel occupies that threshold between writing and painting she became particularly interesting for me at a moment when I think our lives have been conditioned by iPhones and computer screens and situations in which language and image are coming closer together than they ever have been before. And so this whole show is, in some ways, beginning to kind of sketch out the changing role of images, how mark-making, brushstrokes, drawings, and writing can all converge into images and actions, and how the relationship between an image, a word, a space, or an action might be completely rethought. 

  • Etel Adnan, _Five Senses for One Death_, 1969. Ink and watercolor on paper. 11 × 255 in. (27.9 × 647.7 cm), Collection of the artist; courtesy Callicoon Fine Arts, New York, Photograph by Chris Austen
  • Etel Adnan, _Untitled_, 2013. Oil on canvas, 13 3/4 × 17 11/16 in. (35 × 45 cm). Collection of the artist; courtesy Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut and Hamburg