The Whitney's Collection: Selections from 1900 to 1965

Solo en Inglès

“I think that’s what our collection aims to be—to really ground people in the work of the particular moment, but also to show how historical work can have new resonance in our contemporary moment.”
—David Breslin, DeMartini Family Curator and Director of the Collection

Hear from a range of artists, curators, and scholars speaking about works on view.

Elizabeth Catlett, Head, 1947

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Dana Miller: This work by the artist Elizabeth Catlett is from 1947.

Narrator: Dana Miller, former curator of the permanent collection at the Whitney.

Dana Miller: She made this work in Mexico, shortly after she moved there to work on a fellowship. This work was made using a terracotta coil technique that was something she learned in Mexico shortly after she arrived, and was an indigenous form of art-making. And for Catlett, I think that was important. She often wanted to look towards this sort of indigenous and local way of making art as a means of inspiration. And for us, this sculpture is just so simple in it’s sort of content, but yet it conveys such depth of feeling. And the planes of the face are just so incredibly beautiful when the light hits them in a certain way.

Narrator: Catlett studied art at Howard University, and then at the University of Iowa. There, she worked with the painter Grant Wood.

Dana Miller: And it was Wood who had a tremendous impact on her. And he encouraged her to paint and sculpt and depict what she knew. And for her that was the experience of being an African American woman. And so much of her output focuses on a very beautiful, sort of dignified archetype of an African American woman. 

Dana Miller: This work by the artist Elizabeth Catlett is from 1947.

Narrator: Dana Miller, former curator of the permanent collection at the Whitney.

Dana Miller: She made this work in Mexico, shortly after she moved there to work on a fellowship. This work was made using a terracotta coil technique that was something she learned in Mexico shortly after she arrived, and was an indigenous form of art-making. And for Catlett, I think that was important. She often wanted to look towards this sort of indigenous and local way of making art as a means of inspiration. And for us, this sculpture is just so simple in it’s sort of content, but yet it conveys such depth of feeling. And the planes of the face are just so incredibly beautiful when the light hits them in a certain way.

Narrator: Catlett studied art at Howard University, and then at the University of Iowa. There, she worked with the painter Grant Wood.

Dana Miller: And it was Wood who had a tremendous impact on her. And he encouraged her to paint and sculpt and depict what she knew. And for her that was the experience of being an African American woman. And so much of her output focuses on a very beautiful, sort of dignified archetype of an African American woman. 


Elizabeth Catlett, Head, 1947. Terracotta, 10 3/4 × 6 1/2 × 8 3/4 in. (27.3 × 16.5 × 22.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase, with funds from the Jack E. Chachkes Purchase Fund, the Katherine Schmidt Shubert Purchase Fund, and the Wilfred P. and Rose J. Cohen Purchase Fund in memory of Cecil Joseph Weekes 2013.103 Art © Estate of Elizabeth Catlett, licensed by VAGA, New York