Derick Whitson '17, Sugar (Chapter II) (2019)

Alumnus Derick Whitson '17 Featured in SPANTZO Gallery's Newest Exhibition, 'Mighty Joy'

BY Angeline Dimambro, July 2, 2021

Derick Whitson ’17 is among the eight artists whose work comprises Mighty Joy, the new exhibition presented by SPANTZO Gallery.


Founded in 2017 by Art and Art Education student Nathaniel Garcia, SPANTZO Gallery aims to widen the boundaries of expressible thought through the championing of a unique roster of bold and innovative international artists. In addition to being a doctoral candidate studying Art and Art Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Garcia is also a Professor of Art at SUNY.


Mighty Joy, on view now through July 11, 2021, features work from Whitson, Logan Benedict, Sallie Bowen, Deborah Bright, Bonnie Criss, James Gardella, Judy Giera, and Jennifer Grimyser. 


“Queer art is notoriously diffcult to characterize, precisely because the term queer is, in itself, an acknowledgment that no one word can reflect the range of experiences that oppose normative sexuality,” reads the exhibition statement. “Rather than trying to define what queer art is, Mighty Joy, an exhibition of eight photographers and video artists, displays how artists shuck the constraints of cultural and gender identities through self-representation.”


Among the inspirations for Mighty Joy is Martos Gallery’s current two-artist exhibition featuring the work of artists Chuck Nanney and Joel Otterson. The exhibition poses the question “what isn't queer art?” In Nanney’s and Otterson’s distinct answers to this question, Garcia, the curator of Mighty Joy, identified two queer art strategies at play: “(a) the subversion of gender roles (particularly in relation to labor and materials), and (b) the excavation of self.” Garcia identified these same strategies in the work of the artists who are featured in Mighty Joy.


As noted in the exhibition statement, “Whitson cites Joseph Grimaldi as an inspiration for his SUGAR (Chapter II) series. Grimaldi is considered by many to be a pioneer of circus clowning in London in the 18th century, however, Whitson also draws connections to the New York City Club Kids of the 1980's and early 90’s, who wore elaborate costumes and influenced contemporary depictions of mainstream queer culture such as Rupaul’s Drag Race. Whitson identifies performance and masking as crucial metaphoric representations of the repression of race and gender.”


Whitson previously collaborated with SPANTZO Gallery for their Friends of Dorothy group exhibition, which ran from March 18 to April 11, 2021. The show, which was also SPANTZO’s inaugural exhibition, used the use of collage to construct desire as its organizing theme. 


Whitson’s SUGAR (Chapter II) was also selected for a solo exhibition at Kaiser Gallery in Cleveland, Ohio. The exhibition, which opened on June 12, will close on August 8, 2021. 


“I’ve found solace in my longing, time in my heart beat, and a tremor in my waken state,” reads  Whitson’s artist statement featured alongside the exhibition. “Let’s hope my ego has found peace also.”


Derick Whitson is an artist currently living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Working primarily in photography and video, Whitson explores the history and relationships of clowning, drag queens and black/white face to explore the social constructs of race, gender, and sexuality. He works within the realms of Photography, Video & Performance. He earned his MFA at Columbia University and BFA from Columbus College of Art & Design. Working within the realms of Photography, Video & Performance, Whitson’s work has been published in Miami New Times, Huffington Post, The Advocate Magazine, and Photo-Emphasis. Whitson has participated in many residencies across the US, including programs at Mass MoCA, The Fountainhead (Miami), and the AICAD/New York Studio Residency Program. Whitson is also a current recipient of the Foundation For Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant, the 2019 Enfoco Photography Fellowship, and The 2019 NYSCA/NYFA Photography Fellowship.

Sugar (Chapter II) (2019), 27" by 34", 1 of 5, Archival Ink Jet Print, by Derick Whitson '17