Dear Dove, Dear Phillips, Dear Stieglitz: The Early Years

[Arthur] Dove’s relationship with my father [Duncan Phillips]—launched, controlled, and sometimes distorted by the redoubtable Alfred Stieglitz—must stand as one of the most interesting and productive artist-patron relationships of modern times . . . Dove was the model of what [my father] wanted most to encourage—the independent artist with a powerful, fresh, and highly personal vision.—Laughlin Phillips

Through correspondence in the Phillips archives, photographs, and more, the Reading Room exhibition Dear Dove, Dear Phillips, Dear Stieglitz explores the relationship between artist, patron, and gallery dealer.

THE EARLY YEARS, 1912-1933

Photograph of Arthur Dove on board the Mona

From 1924 to 1933, Arthur Dove lived on a 42-foot-long sailboat, the Mona, with his second wife, Helen “Reds” Torr, who was also a painter. They sailed around Long Island Sound, near Huntington Harbor.

Arthur Dove (1880-1946) grew up in Geneva, New York. He attended Cornell University, where he took classes in pre-law to please his father and studied art to please himself. Following graduation, he became an illustrator, and eventually dedicated himself to painting. In his early work, Dove explored realistic subjects, such as still lifes, but by 1910, deeply influenced by his immersion in nature, he began to work abstractly, creating some of the first abstract paintings in the United States. In 1912, Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), acclaimed photographer and gallery owner representing Georgia O’Keeffe, John Marin, and Marsden Hartley, among others, became Dove’s dealer.

Beginning in 1930, museum founder Duncan Phillips (1886-1966) became Dove’s patron. He sent Dove a check for 50 dollars a month (which gradually increased to 200 a month) in exchange for first choice of the artist’s paintings that were exhibited at Stieglitz’s gallery. Phillips responded to Dove’s simple way of life and his independence from European art movements. The Phillips Collection gave Dove his first museum retrospective in 1937 and owns 56 works by the artist—the largest collection of works by Dove in the world. Artist, patron, and gallery dealer exchanged hundreds of letters from 1926 to 1946, the year that Dove and Stieglitz died.

Letter from Arthur Dove to Duncan Phillips, 1927

Duncan Phillips to Arthur Dove, December 19, 1927

This is the first letter that Arthur Dove wrote to Duncan Phillips. The artist invited the collector to see his exhibition at Stieglitz’s 291 gallery in New York: “Your interest in my paintings leaves me free to tell you that I think a vital step has been taken in modern expression with the later ones. Yesterday on seeing the new paintings hung together for the first time I felt that there was beauty there that had gone much farther toward a new reality of my own. I feel that you should and will go to see them.”

Letter from Stieglitz to DP February 1 1926

Alfred Stieglitz to Duncan Phillips, February 1, 1926

Alfred Stieglitz and Duncan Phillips conducted a lively correspondence for 20 years. In this letter, Stieglitz aligns himself with Phillips’s growing predilection for innovative work by American artists: “What naturally interested me most is your growing interest in the gallant experiments of the living American modernists in which I am so much interested.” Several years later, Stieglitz reported to Phillips that he felt that the work of Dove, John Marin, and Georgia O’Keeffe was “of greater freshness and significance than anything being done in Europe.”

Dove, Arthur G., Golden Storm, 1925, Oil and metallic paint on plywood panel 18 9/16 x 20 1/2 in., The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1926

Arthur Dove, Golden Storm, 1925, Oil and metallic paint on plywood panel, 18 9/16 x 20 1/2 in.; The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1926

Golden Storm (1925) and Waterfall (1925) were created on Dove’s sailboat in Huntington Harbor. Though small in scale due to limited working space, both works suggest the monumental. A suspenseful image of choppy waves raging beneath a threatening sky, Golden Storm reflects Dove’s constant experimentation with new media. He avidly read books on materials and techniques and often ground his own pigments. In this painting Dove made liberal use of metallic paint, creating a subtle, iridescent effect. Phillips expressed concern about the longevity of the delicate surface, but Dove assured him that it would not fade. Golden Storm and Waterfall were the first works by Dove purchased by Phillips and the first paintings by Dove acquired by a museum.

Stay tuned for Part II (The Centerport Years) and Part III (The Geneva Years) of this series and visit the Reading Room to see the exhibition.

When Art Imitates Work: Amnesty International Visits The Warmth of Other Suns

Since opening day, The Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement has been resonating with visitors from all walks of life. We have welcomed many groups that work with immigrants and refugees, including Amnesty International USA’s Advocacy and Government Affairs team. Because their global priorities are grounded in protecting refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced persons, their recent guided tour shed a unique light on the work they do every day.

Grassroots Advocacy & Refugee Specialist Ryan Mace shared the significance of the group’s visit with Phillips DEAI intern Gia Harewood:

GH: What specific ties did you see to the work that you all do?
RM: It was impactful to see how the Phillips has so poignantly presented the humanity of people on the move across so many mediums. Just before World Refugee Day this year we issued a report titled “The Mountain is in Front of Us and the Sea is Behind Us,” detailing the human impact of US policies on refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

Walking through the exhibition, it wasn’t hard to see the intersections with that report—human beings are always on the move, sometimes by choice, sometimes by force, or because there are no other choices left. No matter the reason, they all have unique stories that should be told.

GH: Was there anything that particularly resonated with you?
RM: The painting of refugees on the Island of Lesbos [by Liu Xiaodong] was beautiful, particularly as we’ve covered that extensively. Additionally, the piece [by Siah Armajani] that had models of the various rooms that migrants are forced to wait or live in was likely the one that resonated most with me. We’ve been looking at the increased use of detention of migrants for a number of years.

LIU XIAODONG b. 1963, Liaoning Province, China; lives in Beijing, China Refugees 4, 2015 Oil on canvas Courtesy of the artist and Massimo De Carlo, Milan, London, Hong Kong

Liu Xiaodong, Refugees 4, 2015, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the artist and Massimo De Carlo, Milan, London, Hong Kong

Recently we published a report titled “No Home For Children” detailing the Homestead “Temporary Emergency” Facility which houses unaccompanied children. While there, we saw the rooms where children are held, and when I saw this particular artwork my mind was immediately brought back to Homestead, thinking how these are the rooms that welcome children to America. Is this the vision of welcome we want to give them?

SIAH ARMAJANI b. 1939, Tehran, Iran; lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA Seven Rooms of Hospitality, 2017 3-D printed models Courtesy of the artist and Rossi & Rossi

Installation view of The Warmth of Other Suns, on the left is Siah Armajani, Seven Rooms of Hospitality, 2017, 3-D printed models, Courtesy of the artist and Rossi & Rossi. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Photos of artwork by Siah Armajani clockwise from top left: Room for Detainees, 2017; Room for Deportees, 2017; Room for Displaced, 2017; Room for Asylum Seekers, 2017

Clockwise from top left: Room for Detainees, 2017; Room for Deportees, 2017; Room for Displaced, 2017; Room for Asylum Seekers, 2017

GH: What do you want the public to know about Amnesty International?
RM: Amnesty International is a global movement of more than seven million people—including over two million members and supporters here in the USA—who campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. Our vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards.

We campaign to make sure governments honor their shared responsibility to protect the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. Therefore, we condemn any policies or practices that undermine the rights of people on the move.

To learn more about Amnesty International’s work, visit https://www.amnesty.org/en/

-Gia Harewood, DEAI Intern

The Warmth of Other Suns: Crossing the Sea

Like the mythic landscapes of the American west, the sea represents a vast and indeterminate site of possibility. For the migrants who venture to cross the Mediterranean in their passage to Europe, the sea is a frontier marked by fear and the unknown. Since 2014, over 18,000 refugees have lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean. Many artists featured in The Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Displacement address the sea in their work. On the third floor of the exhibition, a gallery featuring the work of Kader Attia, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Xaviera Simmons provides a compelling narrative about the unknown.

The Warmth of Other Suns installation view with Kader Attia, La Mer Morte (The Dead Sea), 2015, Floor installation of second-hand clothing, Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul and Xaviera Simmons, Superunknown (Alive in the), 2010, C-prints mounted on Sintra, Collection Leslie and Greg Ferrero, Miami, courtesy David Castillo Gallery; Wolfgang Tillmans, Lampedusa, 2008, Inkjet prints on paper and clips, Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, Galerie Bucholz, Berlin/Cologne, and Maureen Paley, London. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

The Warmth of Other Suns installation view with Wolfgang Tillmans, The State We’re In, 2015, Inkjet prints on paper and clips, Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, Galerie Bucholz, Berlin/Cologne, and Maureen Paley, London. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

The sea appears as a site of bereavement in La Mer Morte (The Dead Sea) by Kader Attia (1970, Dugny, France; lives in Berlin, Germany, and Paris, France), which presents a spectrum of blue sweatshirts, denim, t-shirts, and shoes strewn across the gallery floor, as if the wearers had suddenly vanished. The colors mirror the shades and colors of the ocean, but Attia’s tableau makes visible what is absent: the human bodies that these garments were made to clothe. In this sense, the scattered clothing parallels the Mediterranean as a void where people disappear and calls attention to the migrants whose deaths at sea remain unreported because their bodies are never found. La Mer Morte offers both a poignant reminder of the loss of human life and a visual testimony to everyday tragedies.

Superunknown (Alive in the) by Xaviera Simmons (1974, New York City, USA; lives in New York City, USA), a grid of found photographs of overcrowded migrant boats, uses serial images of the European refugee crisis to study the sea as a site of contemporary migration. In the process of gathering images from magazines and newspapers, Simmons, a descendant of Black American slaves, European American colonizers, and early Indigenous Americans, considers the experiences of those who have left their homes to journey to the unknown—a notion emphasized in the work’s title. In the sea and outside the boundaries of nation states, both their survival and their status as citizens is profoundly beyond their knowledge and control.

In the photographs at opposite ends of the gallery, Wolfgang Tillmans (1968, Remscheid, Germany; lives in London, UK, and Berlin, Germany) offers two striking perspectives on the situation facing many migrants and immigrants. The State We’re In documents a part of the Atlantic Ocean where international time zones and borders intersect, and evokes the plight of migrants who journey by sea, venturing to cross a vast expanse where the borders of nation states disappear (and also leave migrant boats stranded as coast guards face off in their refusals of rescue). Lampedusa testifies in stark terms to the wreckage of migrant boats piled up on the tiny Italian island, whose proximity to North Africa puts it on the geographic frontline of the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. These two images testify to the grim situation faced by migrants who risk their lives to seek entry to Europe by sea.

Wolfgang Tillmans, The State We’re In, 2015 (left), Lampedusa, 2008 (right)

Wolfgang Tillmans, The State We’re In, 2015 (left), Lampedusa, 2008 (right)

Also in the gallery, is a copy of an open letter from the Mayor of Lampedusa Giusi Nicolini to the European Union from November 8, 2012, which begins: “I am the new mayor of the islands of Lampedusa and Linosa. I was elected in May, and by November 3, the bodies of twenty-one people who had drowned while attempting to reach Lampedusa had been consigned to me. I consider this totally unacceptable. For Lampedusa it is a terrible burden of grief. By way of the Prefecture, we have had to ask the mayors of the province for assistance just so that the last eleven corpses could be given a decent burial, because our municipal cemetery has no more room. We will make more space, but I have a question for all of you: how big does the cemetery on my island need to be?”

The Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement is on view through September 22.