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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.

Susan Rothenberg’s Three Masks and Painting a Mask

January 13, 2012

Susan Rothenberg, Three Masks, 2006. Oil on canvas, overall: 59 3/16 in x 66 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. The Dreier Fund for Acquisitions, 2007.

Currently on display in the Sant Building, Susan Rothenberg’s Three Masks (2006) depicts three theatrical masks, one held by a pair of disembodied mannequin-esque arms rising from a field of white.  Masks have been a popular subject not only for Rothenberg but for a number of artists. Recently, I was tasked with painting my cousin’s pee-wee ice hockey league goalie mask. Here are the steps I took:

  1. Disassemble the mask, removing the cage and all hardware.
  2. Sand the entire surface of the mask using 200, 400, and 600 grit sandpaper. Fill in any imperfections with body filler.
  3. Apply masking tape to the padding, and insert cotton balls into the vent holes to keep the mask’s interior padding intact.
  4. Spray filler primer onto the mask evenly.

    Photos: Sandy Lee

  5. Pencil in the design, and apply paint. In this instance, I chose acrylic paint for its non-reactive properties with the fiberglass of the mask.
  6. Apply clearcoat, polish with polishing compound, and reassemble.

(Left) The helmet in use. (Right) The author taking a shot on the goalie Avery Eng with featured mask. Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Warner.

Snapshot of Snapshot

January 12, 2012

Photos: Sarah Osborne Bender

Chief Curator Eliza Rathbone meets with graphic designer Rebecca Doran and Curatorial Coordinator Liza Key to review proofs for the title wall and artist portraits and biographies, as well as finalize color choices for a large graphic band that will be installed in the Cafritz Gallery to introduce the Snapshot exhibition. Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard opens February 4.

Luncheon of the Boating Party: The Reality Show

January 12, 2012

Photos from Elaine and Dick Van Blerkom's scrapbook to commemorate Dick's 1980s birthday themed after the 1880s Luncheon of the Boating Party.

Arguably one of the finest paintings at The Phillips Collection, Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party portrays a lavish gathering of Renoir’s contemporaries and colleagues for a pleasant midday meal. The work is inspiring in its subject matter, its scale, and its technique, so much so that it moved Elaine and Dick Van Blerkom to recreate their own luncheon on the C&O Canal in full period costume (hear about their first encounter with the painting on a first date to the Phillips in 1963 in their “Love Stories” video below).

The Smithsonian’s Food & Think blog has these DIY tips for an idyllic Renoir-inspired luncheon.

By all means, come and study Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party at the Phillips as a guide for your next gathering, but please note, parasols will be checked at the door.

In the Rothko Room, You Might Burst Into Tears

January 11, 2012

Curator at Large Klaus Ottmann is author of  The Essential Mark Rothko. He’ll share his insights on the artist in a lecture tomorrow evening. Rothko is getting the spotlight in D.C. this season with John Logan’s Tony® Award winning play Red at Arena Stage. In anticipation, Klaus recently sat down with Phillips Communications Director Ann Greer to talk all things Rothko. The interview will be published in Arena Stage’s program book. Read a preview here.

Rothko Room at The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Photo (c) Robert Lautman

Ann:  Why do you think Mark Rothko looms so large in the ranks of 20th century artists?

Klaus:  He was a unique artist in the way he dealt with color. He was very deeply involved in philosophy, religion, and he had an unusual ability to make his paintings communicate with the public. It was a well-known fact that people used to burst out in tears in front of his paintings, many times. I think he had a very emotional and very deep effect on the viewer – one very few artists have been able to have.

Ann:  How do you think that sort of “alchemy”–if I can use that word–how does that happen?

Klaus:  Well, of course, it didn’t happen overnight, he developed slowly into it. But, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that he was deeply religious, he was very philosophical. It had to do with the fact that he very strongly believed that his paintings should communicate–that there was a dialogue going on. It has also to do with his background in theater, he always wanted to become an actor, and he believed his works to be plays, he believed his works were created to be emotional conversations with the viewer–similar to what a play can do . . .

. . . he kept thinking about the three dimensional space. That’s something I think is very important. It’s very clear to me when I sit in the Rothko Room at The Phillips Collection.

Ann:  Of course, Klaus is talking about the Rothko Room at The Phillips Collection, which was actually the first public space devoted exclusively to work by Rothko. Rothko was very involved with Duncan Phillips in planning the dimensions, the light levels, the bench.

Klaus:  There you are very close to the paintings, there are four paintings, one on each wall of the room, you are surrounded by them. You sit on the bench that Rothko put in the room, and you can feel the presence of the paintings. It’s not just an optical, visual presence, but an emotional presence. This is what he always wanted. He wanted the paint to come out and almost hover in the space in front of you and to touch you. So, he was always thinking of this three dimensional space like a stage. In a way, the Rothko Room is almost like a stage with four sides–you are in it and a part of it, and you are interacting with the other actors; you become part of that emotional play that he created. So, he never gave up that idea; the theater was always there, and it was always the framework that he used to conceptualize and make his art. To me, that’s very, very important.

Eye to Eye with Pollen and Egg Yolk

January 10, 2012

Joseph Marioni, Yellow Painting, 2003, No. 9. Acrylic and linen on stretcher 36 x 34 in. Photo: Charles Abdoo

On a recent Spotlight Tour, Joseph Marioni’s bright canvases left many in the group cold. Responses ranged from a resolute “not interested” to a searching, “what do they add to the history of art?” Gallery Educator Alice Shih pointed out that, for some, Joseph Marioni‘s paintings may be best brought into focus by the work of other artists hanging nearby. Alice pointed out sight lines from Marioni to Matisse, to Kandinsky, and along a river of blues and pinks in Gene Davis, to Morris Louis, Adolph Gottlieb, diving into two deep blue Marionis a few galleries beyond.

Alice built further context through metaphor. She told us that the feeling of “egg yolk” pops into her head when she looks at a particular yellow painting by Marioni. (I see pollen, which leads me to the work of another artist recently at the  Phillips).

Later I asked Alice if this kind of color association happens for her with other works by Marioni. She shared this list:

*Red Painting (2002): lava

*Yellow Painting, (2011): the song Good Day Sunshine by The Beatles

*Blue Painting (1995): the night sky (it has spotty moments when it could seem like stars)

Joseph Marioni, Blue Painting, 1995, No. 26. Acrylic and linen on stretcher 28 x 24 in. Photo: Nicholas Walster

Does Marioni’s work bring up particular memories, sensations, references, or metaphors for you? Please comment and let us know.

Cecilia Wichmann, Publicity and Marketing Manager

Your E-Reader Can’t Do This

January 10, 2012

We don’t usually post things that aren’t related to something going on here at the museum. But the New York Review of Books retweeted this simply magical little movie made by bookstore owners in Toronto. No matter how cool your iPad case is, it can’t inspire this kind of magical adoration.

Congenial Spirits: Matisse and Marioni

January 10, 2012

At first glance you may not consider the curatorial placement of Joseph Marioni’s Yellow Painting (2003) and Green Painting (2002) flanking Henri Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel (1916) in the next gallery. But look again . . .

Henri Matisse's Studio, Quai Saint-Michel (1916) on view in the gallery just beyond Joseph Marioni's green and yellow paintings. Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

When standing and simultaneously viewing all three paintings from a distance, the shared palette becomes very apparent. Marioni’s paintings begin to vibrate against the walls. The green and yellow echo the edges of the Studio window and ceiling. The red tapestry under Matisse’s Italian model, Lorette, suddenly comes to life. Marioni’s rectangular canvases mimic the window panes that captured the view onto Quai Saint-Michel. In our galleries, rather than peering out on the Seine or the palace of Justice, we look further into the layers and depths of color.

On a tour at the Phillips in October, the artist expressed the significance of Matisse in the installation, describing Studio, Quai Saint-Michel as a “key piece.” According to Marioni, Matisse was one of the first artists to champion early modern color, the emotional context of color as well as the shift from representation to abstraction.

Alice Shih, Gallery Educator

Marioni's Green Painting makes Matisse's colors pop. Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

Because It’s (Sort Of) Snowing

January 9, 2012

John Henry Twachtman, Winter, undated. Oil on canvas, 21 5/8 x 26 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1920.

D.C. may not look like this yet, but if the flakes keep falling, Connecticut Avenue may begin to resemble Twachtman’s Winter (undated).