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Something, Anything, Everything, Nothing: Ambiguity, Meaning, and Experience

William Whitaker, senior art services specialist, office of the registrar, National Gallery of Art, in conversation with Molly Donovan, curator of contemporary art, department of modern art, National Gallery of Art Absent context, marks are stubbornly ambiguous things. How, then, do they acquire meaning? Perhaps their meaning lies not in what they signify or represent, but in how the viewer experiences them. On November 18, 2019, as part of the Works in Progress lecture series, William Whitaker and Molly Donovan grappled with this question—and the proposed answer—by examining paintings by Whitaker. Discussing Whitaker’s artistic practice and his goals in mark-making, they challenged the audience to think critically about how meaning is attributed.