The Steel, Sculpture and Stregnth of Mac Whitney

Mac Whitney Sculpture Oak Cliff Five

The weather couldn’t be better, almost surreal. It was, after all, still in August. Thirty miles south of Dallas, I heard no traffic or airplane noise, only cicadas singing in the woods. That distinct timbre, caressed in a cool breeze, set the stage for the outdoor sculpture pieces Mac Whitney created.


During our near three-hour long interview at his home, we learned that Whitney was a Kansas transplant, who arrived in Dallas back in 1968. The early farm living taught him of tooling and machining. That determination in problem-solving combined with a tremendous know-how of the material enabled him to make steel sculptures of gigantic scale.

In fact, we felt his deep obsession of making things and perfecting things right after we drove through the gate. He noticed the dent in the bumper of our car. Then he bent down, touched it, inside and out. He suggested that could be easily fixed by popping it out. Of course, we did not proceed, the insurance had it covered. That bumper defect looked trivial, compared to what he must solve in each piece.

“I tried a lot of different things. Sometimes it works, sometime it don’t.” He commented as he gave us a walking tour around the property. But never has he stopped experimenting and exploring the material limits. It is hard for me to imagine bending a steel chain of 90 feet against its horizontal thickness. To stay focused on his aesthetics amid such technical and engineering challenges, all by himself, is no small wonder.

Through those tremendous and tenuous processes, he has triumphed in exhibiting in his vision into the sky. Despite the scale and weight, the metal springs in the air like a feather, or sprawls into elegant curves like an elastic band, or keeps a nuanced balance between different elements.

Those elements embrace each other to form a complex spatial relationship. They look intimate, like a string quartet, retaining their individuality in either organic or geometric forms; together, they speak in symphonic volume, like the great chord that opens Beethoven’s quartet in E flat major.

We remembered the moment when we all stood there, looking up. Cisco, his dog, was resting under a truck, but kept an eye at us. He must have seen us all dwarfed under the largest piece in front of his house.

Mac Whitney at his home
Mac Whitney at his home

During my research, I found earlier photos like the one of him laughing in front of his artwork at the Corcoran Museum of American Art in Washington D.C.. (During the interview, he told me that the laugh was just half of the story – his truck broke down on the way there and then he had to dissemble that large piece within 30 minutes on an icing morning.)

He certainly has aged since then. And his back was not as straight as before. Yet that giant curve, shooting up and piercing the Texas sky, speaks unequivocally of the strength of a man, who has conquered the steel.

Please follow up as we discover in our ArtAfterX project. Here is a sneak peek of the interview.

Mac Whitney at home with his Sculptures from Art After X on Vimeo.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage.

When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city.

With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s.

The result will be a book with a video component.

We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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