Photo: David McCabe

David Grainger Whitney

By Irene Shum Allen
Curator and Collections Manager


Although Philip Johnson’s biographer Franz Schulze referred to him as a “wife” and he identified himself as the homemaker, David Grainger Whitney (1939-2005) was an accomplished curator and editor, an avid art collector and gardener, a loyal friend to many artists, an art adviser to New York’s powerful elite, and an advocate of contemporary art.1  In contrast to his outspoken partner of forty-five years, Philip Johnson, Whitney was an éminence grise, an art world insider who preferred to maintain his privacy.2,3,4  Whitney’s circle of friends included Modern masters such as Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, Frank Gehry, Frank Stella, Ken Price, among others.  Whitney described the development of these relationships simply as “I became close to these people who are now all gods.  But they weren’t then.”5  However, from a historical perspective, this attests to his keen eye for emerging talent, as well as his deep understanding of and appreciation for the creative mind and artistic expression. 

"He was an eighteen-year-old or something.  He was a student up at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design]….  We met because of [Jasper] Johns’ flag painting.  He said, 'Why did you buy that flag?'  It was his first question to me in the world.  He just came up to me after a lecture [at Brown University] and said, 'Why did you buy the flag?'  I said, 'Because Alfred Barr told me to.'  I told the truth too soon, as usual.  So then we got started."

Philip Johnson on meeting David Whitney,
The Philip Johnson Tapes: Interviews by Robert A.M. Stern, Edited by Kazys Varnelis, The Monacelli Press, New York 2008

"I’ll make decisions about our daily life.  It could look like I was pushing him around, but in fact he wants to be pushed around.  …I like everything about Philip.  Einstein once said, 'My wife takes care of all the little things and I take care of all the big things.'  I think I take care of all the little things."

David Whitney on his relationship with Philip Johnson, Couples: Speaking from the Heart
by Mariana Cook, Chronicle Books, San Francisco 2000

"David has been a mainstay of my life since 1960…. It’s hard to imagine a life alone…. It’s a very happy life….  He takes the lead a good deal.  It’s a wonderful feeling."

Philip Johnson on David Whitney, Couples: Speaking from the Heart

1. Portrait of a Curator as a Young Man
2. A Prolific Career
3. Lynn Davis
4. Frank O. Gehry
5. New Canaan with Philip Johnson
6. First Love: Gardening
7. Donor, Patron, Design Enthusiast

Download: Essay Bibliography

1Franz Schulze, Philip Johnson: Life and Work, University of Chicago, 1994 (p.311-314)
2Martin Filler, “The Architect of Master Builder’s Store of Art,” The New York Times, June 2, 1996
3James Reginato, “The Golden Boys,” W magazine, July 2002
4Randy Kennedy, “David Whitney, 66, Renowned Art Collector,” The New York Times, June 14, 2005
5James Reginato

my not ready for prime time stuff here