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In February, the Conversation Continues

January 23, 2012

The Center for the Study of Modern Art’s series Conversations with Artists is halfway through its sixth season. An integral part of the Center’s programming, the series has been engaging the D.C.-area community with leading and emerging contemporary visual artists since 2006.

Janine Antoni, "Inhabit," Digital C-print, 2009, 116 1/2 x 72 in. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Each season has a theme that ties the conversations together. This season’s theme, “Art as Experience,” emphasizes the importance of experience over interpretation, drawing much from the philosophy of museum founder Duncan Phillips as well as theorist John Dewey whose writings on what constitutes an experience in art inspired the theme. While the experience of an artwork may be validated with the expiration of its material (material that may very well be integral to the piece) we must transcend this materiality to experience the purity of the artist’s intent.

It goes without saying that it is more difficult to have an experience with some artists’ work than others. Sometimes we just don’t get it. Even after a wonderfully in-depth conversation with an artist we still may not understand his or her intent. I can’t tell you how many times I have left a conversation more confused than when it began–but I consider these inconclusive discussions a success on the artist’s part. He or she has set me on a search for understanding.

You may not need to view the artist’s work in real time (as opposed to slides) in order to have an experience, to understand the intent.  These artists are so well versed in explaining and relating their work that you can form a fond appreciation from merely a 2D experience. Then there are artists for whom the conversation is a performance, in which case the conversation is the experience, and you cannot help but be enveloped in the intent (or perhaps realize the trickery after-the-fact).

This fall we heard from two artists, Wolfgang Laib and Jill Downen, both of whose works are densely material and implicitly spiritual, as well as from the London-based artist collective, The Otolith Group – whose conversation/performance challenged notions of how we interpret images in contemporary society.

The conversations continue in February when we welcome Anthony McCall, whose work focuses on the relationship of the human body with space, creating a heightened sense of self awareness. In the video below, McCall discusses his light sculpture Between You and I, which was part of Creative Time’s first quadrennial PLOT/09: This World & Nearer Ones.

Performance artists Janine Antoni and William Pope.L round out the 2011-12 season in March and April. Antoni describes her work and relationship with material in Art21’s segment on “Loss and Desire.”

If you are in D.C., you can check out William Pope.L’s “crawl” piece The Great American Way on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art as part of 30 Americans, on view through February 12, 2012.

Conversations with Artists programs require advance registration as space is limited. Visit the museum calendar for more information and to make a reservation.

William Maxwell: Monumental Head

January 20, 2012

It was 1995 when I was in my first stint as a Phillips Collection Museum Assistant as well as a full-time BFA student at the Corcoran College of Art and  Design after 20 years as a newspaper and magazine journalist. I was sitting on the front steps of the Phillips house during a work break when I saw a tall, angular older man leaving the museum with his daughter.

As they approached, I stood and said to the man, “Hi, excuse me, but are you William Maxwell? We corresponded often when I was a magazine editor in Delaware.”

I identified myself, and he said, “Oh, yes” and spelled out my last name, smiling.

Maxwell (1908-2000), a short-story writer, novelist, and fiction editor of The New Yorker magazine, was in Washington to receive the PEN/Malamud achievement award for short fiction.

He said whenever he was in Washington he visited the Phillips because he loved the collection. His biographer Barbara Burkhardt noted in William Maxwell: A Literary Life, that one of his favorite artists featured in the collection was Pierre Bonnard because of Bonnard’s “intimism.”

He also told me he particularly liked seeing Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture Monumental Head (1960) because the head looked just like him (but without the really long neck).

It sure does.

(left) William Maxwell (right) Alberto Giacometti, Monumental Head, 1960. Bronze, 37 1/2 x 11 x 10 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1962.

Happy Birthday Paul Cézanne

January 19, 2012

(Left) Paul Cézanne, Self-Portrait, c. 1898. Lithograph on paper, 21 53/4 x 18 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1949. (Right) Camille Pissarro, Portrait of Cezanne (State I), 1874. Etching on paper, 20 1/2 x 14 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1954 (?).

Tools of the Trade

January 19, 2012

Archives assistant Colleen Hennessey's workspace. Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

Director’s Desk: Meet Me in Marioni

January 18, 2012

A Surprise Around Every Corner

January 17, 2012

Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

Last week, Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party found a new home in the Music Room. The painting won’t stay in this gallery forever but will enjoy a nice respite here with the Tacks while various other installations throughout the museum are finalized over the coming weeks.

Rothko Packed Them to the Rafters!

January 13, 2012

Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

Last night, Klaus Ottmann, director of the Center for the Study of Modern Art and curator at large, gave his talk Rothko and Color: A Two-Part Meditation to a packed house of 275 attendees. The auditorium was filled to capacity, standing room filled. Even our overflow seating outside of the auditorium was brimming, with people sitting on the floor and lining the walls. With our permanently installed Rothko Room, the special hanging at the National Gallery of Art, and the impending opening of John Logan’s play Red at Arena Stage, D.C. is fully embracing Mark Rothko’s exploration of the experience of color.