Reading this week:
- Son of Old Man Hat, told by Left Handed, recorded by Walter Dyk
Recently, as part of a lovely Saturday afternoon out and about in DC, my super amazing girlfriend and I went to the Phillips Collection.
The Phillips Collection is a bit outside of our normal museum circuit. This is primarily because it costs money, and in a town like DC that is frankly a very steep hurdle. Specifically it cost my super amazing girlfriend $16 and me $0 because veterans get in for free, and although in the end I offered to go 50/50 on it she hasn’t sent me a Venmo request yet. So there you go.
Also a little outside our usual paradigm is that the Phillips Collection is a Museum of Modern Art. I have a very well documented (on this blog) like of very old things, so the items in this collection are from my point of view young whipper snapper upstarts. The museum itself however is 100 years old so Modern is a bit of a stretched definition. Their collection had a few of the classics too. You got your Van Gogh, your Mondrian, Renoir, Monet, etc. But after cruising around the museum the items I liked best were the most modern. In fact the oldest item I bothered to take a picture of was the below picture from 1922 and that is mostly because it had boats. Specifically, a regatta’s worth:
To flash forward a bit, when we finally left the museum I overheard a dude on the sidewalk complaining. He said something like “I can appreciate a good scam; if you can roller some paint onto a canvas and sell it as art good on ya.” Look I gotta say a lot of the art doesn’t quite speak to me. They got a room full of Rothkos here and his art has never really moved me. A long time ago now a friend of a friend took us to see a whole mess of his black-on-black works and they were… fine. But like man, first off the joke is old. “My toddler could do that” well they didn’t and if they could you would be a terrible parent because a lot of these oil paints I am pretty sure are toxic and you don’t want your toddler playing with them. Second dude like, clearly some people find meaning in this. Maybe you should figure out what that is.
The paintings I liked best on this trip were the ones where the materials gave them a very different depth and texture than the paintings I am used to. One piece of artwork that I really liked but didn’t photograph was “Untitled 598” by Florence Pierce. I didn’t take a picture because I knew it would be flat and the picture on their website doesn’t do it justice either. The black spot in the middle is like a rough, textured black, but very black indeed. Like you had painted sandpaper with the blackest black. The rest of it is resin put over a wavy metal sheet, so throughout the piece it has different depths and the light travels through and seeks out different paths through it. I found another piece of hers for sale online for $20,000 so maybe I should cash out my retirement, I dunno. Then again my super amazing girlfriend just took a ceramics class, and she brought home a bowl that is absolutely gorgeous because the clay on the bottom wasn’t smooth, and had a spiral pattern from being thrown on the potter’s wheel. When she glazed it the glaze settled into the grooves leaving peaks with different depths of glaze that did nearly the same thing. So maybe I can save the $20,000 (+$450 shipping) and admire the beauty that both she is and brings home instead.
The next paintings that really caught my interest were by Kate Shepherd. The above one is titled “Black Tiles.” I am very used to the look of oil paint on canvas, but a major thing I saw on this visit was the use of glossy acrylic paints. A lot of the paintings in the museum took advantage of those materials I thought to really interesting effect. In Kate Shepherd’s paintings (the ones on display at any rate), what she has done is used high-gloss acrylic paint and covered a wood panel as a background. She has a series of these and the acrylic gives the wood panel a very shiny, very smooth surface that is the opposite of the texture you see with oil on canvas. On top of that background she paints white lines in geometric patterns. The other paintings that were on display consisted of mostly straight lines, but in “Black Tiles” she uses curvy lines to give a 3D effect. Combined with the glossy background as I walked towards or away from the painting, with the reflected light changing, it gave a sense of motion that was a tad mesmerizing.
Finally and just to round it out was “The Charming Statesman” by Federico Solmi. This is done with white pen on black paper and it took me a second to figure out what was going on. I thought it was by an African artist with African themes and then I stepped back a bit and realized it was ole’ GW (I think?). Quite the effect nonetheless and the horses’ eyes match the peoples’ eyes and there are flags and it speaks to jingoism (maybe?) but through the eyes of like uh, well maybe the horses or something? I dunno dude, it’s art, and I don’t think my toddler could do this. I liked it at any rate. The Phillips Collection is worth a visit, especially if you can get in for free, but even if you can’t. I had a good time.