Meet Our Summer Interns: Addison, Evan, Maya, Vanessa

Our summer interns introduce themselves and share what they have been working on over the past few weeks. Fall internship applications are now open through Friday, August 21!

Addison Tobias, University of Buffalo

“I am from Buffalo, New York, and am currently pursuing a masters degree in Critical Museum Studies and Arts Management from the University at Buffalo. I immediately wanted to intern at The Phillips Collection after my first visit to DC this past year with one of my Arts Management classes. My favorite museums besides The Phillips Collection are the Albright-Knox Art Gallery as it was the first gallery I ever went to, and the MoMA in New York City. This summer I am working in the DEAI department and have been conducting research on the various ways The Phillips Collection can implement a Supplier Diversity Program in the near future. I am also working on a project that looks into the diversity of the various artists that The Phillips Collection has had over the years, and the stories that can be told from the similarities and differences across these artists.”

 

Evan Wang, Indiana University

“My name is Evan Wang, I come from China. I am a master’s student at Indiana University, studying Arts Administration and Public Affairs. I have several museums in my mind that I like, such as the Met, the British Museum, the National Air and Space Museum, and a few small art museums. As for the artists, Van Gogh and Anne Magill are my favorite for now. I am working in Public Programs with Miguel Perez, working on a research project which focuses on what museums are doing for low-income communities. Another project is to develop a hypothetical public program for Community Engagement. And I really wish I could go to the Phillips and have real contact with all people who work there.

 

Maya Wilson, Harvard University

“My name is Maya Wilson, I’m from DC, and I’m currently on a year off before I start college at Harvard this fall. I’ve been very fortunate to do some traveling this year and one of my favorite museums I visited was the Acropolis Museum in Athens; it really opened my eyes to the power and nuance of curatorial studies and museum studies in general. I’m very grateful to be a part of the Public Programs department, in a moment where public programming presents some very urgent and exciting challenges. In addition to brainstorming, developing, and helping to facilitate a variety of virtual programs, I’ve been doing research on different strategies cultural institutions across the nation use for teen outreach, in the hopes that we might be able to adopt some of these practices for more adolescent programming at the Phillips. Suffice it to say I’m sure this internship would’ve been a very different experience had we been able to meet in person, but I welcome the opportunity to get a little bit more familiarity working in the virtual space, especially considering we’re probably going to be working remotely in some capacity for the foreseeable future. 

 

Vanessa Kemajou, Towson University

My main project as the DEAI Intern was to create an employee training manual and Powerpoint presentation on microaggressions in the workplace. This was an exciting project on a conversation I am passionate about. Interns should expect to gain new skills that can be transferable to any field even if it is not museum related. Through the different assessments and evaluations, you learn your strengths and weaknesses and learn what type of employee you are in the workplace. Interns should expect to gain a unique experience, especially working virtually. After my internship, I will complete my last semester of undergrad, pursue my masters next and by God’s grace be a family and marriage therapist and psychotherapist. In the future, I plan on owning a private practice for therapy.

“Before painting, there was jazz”

Director of Music Jeremy Ney on Sam Gilliam’s relationship to jazz. Visit our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter August 10-30 to learn more about the intersections of art and music.

“Before painting, there was jazz.”—Sam Gilliam, 2014

Sam Gilliam, April, 1971, Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 in. The Phillips Collection, Bequest of Mercedes H. Eichholz, 2013

When we look at Sam Gilliam’s painting April (1971), what music might we imagine to accompany the image? In a 1985 local TV profile entitled “Sam Gilliam—Symphony of Color,” the segment producers chose an arrangement of J.S. Bach’s Air on a G String as the musical backdrop to Gilliam’s canvasses. Slow and meditative may have been the intended mood, but you are more likely to feel as if you are on hold with your insurance company than you are to be acoustically stirred by the work of this singular figure in American art of the 20th and 21st centuries.

What changes about a painting like April when we think about the music that Gilliam himself loves: jazz? Gilliam has spoken frequently about the influence of jazz on his art. When he moved to Washington, DC, in the early 1960s, he promoted concerts, bringing the Modern Jazz Quartet and Marian Anderson to the city during the era of civil rights. Painting in his DC studio, Gilliam listened to the vanguards of bebop: Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk, radical improvisers who pioneered a liberated Black musical aesthetic rooted in African and African American cultural history. Gilliam has talked about his associations with John Coltrane’s music and the aural impression of his “sheets of sound”—a conscious visual metaphor for Coltrane’s innovations in jazz harmony and rhythm. “Coltrane worked at the whole sheet,” Gilliam has remarked, “He didn’t bother to stop at bars and notes and clefs and various things, he just played the whole sheet at once.”

Gilliam has also identified with the performance of jazz musicianship, saying, “jazz leads to the acrobatics of art,” revealing his affinity with the bodily, affective presence of a musician like Coltrane in the “acrobatic” moment of improvisation.

As is well documented, Gilliam remained wholly committed to abstraction in the 1960s and 1970s, at a time when the Black Arts Movement (BAM) sought to frame Black art through a “socially responsible aesthetic” that was rooted in figuration and realism. Gilliam’s abstraction allowed him to move more fluidly through questions of race and self-identity, and he chose to relate to them freely as one element among many, rather than as a matter of fate. His engagement with jazz was similar; it is not always explicit in his work, but it is central to the mosaic of his artistic identity. His statement that “before painting, there was jazz” is revealing in this context. As French philosopher Gilles Deleuze has observed about the painterly process, “It is a mistake to think that the painter works on a white surface,” by which he means that the blank canvas is already filled with the ideas that the artist brings to the painting. He calls this “the painting before the painting.” Gilliam’s decisive “before painting, there was jazz” compels us to interpret the aural trace of jazz influence in his work.

The Phillips’s beveled-edge painting April reveals Gilliam’s intensely performative process, which—like jazz—requires a balance between structure and improvisation. At this time, he applied paint freely to canvases placed on the floor, folding the material while the paint was wet, a procedure that introduced improvisatory elements to the final composition. The title, April, signals a conceptual link to earlier paintings, April 4 (1969) and Red April (1970), both of which refer to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King (April 4, 1968), rooting the multiple April paintings in a shared, humanistic social consciousness. In 1971, Gilliam also produced Lady Day, an explicit homage to jazz singer Billie Holiday, which shares the same coloristic, sensuous lyricism as April. While the titles of the canvases flag their social, political, and cultural concerns, these are also rendered ambiguous through the process of abstraction. Within Gilliam’s process of defamiliarization through abstraction, he found a model in the experimental attitude of the practitioners of bebop, who recombined and transformed the elements of jazz through a process of hybridization and synthesis that created a new art form focused on individual freedom and agency. The radicalism of artists like John Coltrane formed the perfect analogue for Gilliam, who sought a similar individualistic style unconstrained by disciplinary boundaries.

So when Gilliam refers to himself as “more like a composer,” as he does at the beginning of the 1985 TV interview, we should think critically about how to interpret musical influence in his art. We might be cautious not to frame the metaphor of Gilliam the composer through the prism of Eurocentric Western art music, typified by a “universal” figure such as Bach, but engage with the musical culture and influences closest to the artists’ life and work. Such an engagement may reveal different layers of interpretive depth to a painting, sparking the questions: can music transform what we see, and could a work of art help us hear in new ways? To confront such an intersensory provocation, we would do well to heed the words of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, who encouraged his audiences to “hear with your eyes and see with your ears.”

Red Dirt Studio: A Community, School, and Home

Director of Community Engagement Nehemiah Dixon III shares his experience as member of Red Dirt Studio, a new Phillips Collection partner.

A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in a talk with The Phillips Collection’s Contemporaries group. The invitation came from Margaret Boozer, the founding Co-Director of Red Dirt Studio of which I have been a member since the spring of 2015. So I sat with my studio mates and we talked with the Contemporaries about the work we do and the art we make.

What I shared is that the art I make is unquestionably linked to the times we live in. What started as my response out of frustration and grief from the blatant disregard for the life of Trayvon Martin has echoed over the years as an immutable recurring nightmare. My Hoodies represent what others see of me and of the fear I have of navigating a world that does not respect my life. They represent the hollow attempts of mitigating racism, police brutality, implicit bias, and the stereotyping of over policed brothers and sisters I call family. My Hoodies are my pain in the form of sculpture.

Working at Red Dirt on my Hoodies sculptures created with epoxy and resin

Suits of Armour installed in Foggy Bottom as part of the Foggy Bottom Sculptors Biennial

Red Dirt Studio sits on the border of Washington, DC, in a small town called Mt. Rainier, nestled in the Gateway Arts District which is home to many artists, makers, and community shakers. Finding this community has been my school after school and my artist home away from home for over ten years. The education I have gained from friendships and community building that takes place there has been paramount to my career as an artist and administrator.

Red Dirt is where I make art but much more than that it is where we develop each other and push each other to work harder and smarter. It is where we meet on Saturdays to have Seminar (now on Zoom called Zoominar) to share, critique, and create business. It is where—when safe to do so—we hold community events such as our yearly Open Studio Tour, fundraisers, and gallery shows. It is grad school without pocket-busting tuition and an incubator for ideas, projects, and goals. Red Dirt is home for 30 artists, arts administrators, sculptors, photographers, landscape architects, painters, and more.

A pre-covid in-person Seminar

This summer, the Phillips’s Education and Community Engagement Department has been partnering with Red Dirt Studio to present a series of free online workshops every other Saturday called Hands-on with Red Dirt. The artists hone their presentations in Seminar and then meet with the Community Engagement team to further develop the concepts for the event. Each week the series features an artist who walks participants through an activity, which has ranged from creating your own chakra color wheel to creating your own shadow boxes using found objects.

If you would like to experience what being at Red Dirt Studio is like, sign up for a Saturday workshop!