I See Your “Point”

Paul Signac, Setting Sun. Sardine Fishing. Adagio. (1891) The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

When I first heard The Phillips Collection was going to have a Neo-Impressionism exhibition, I immediately thought of Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and the technique used to create it—pointillism. Pointillism is a technique in which small, distinct dots of pure color are applied in patterns to form an image. In a staff tour of the exhibition Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities: Painting, Poetry, Music, exhibition curator Cornelia Homburg said that while the artists’ technique cannot be ignored, the beauty of the exhibition is really in the exploration of the imagery evoked that is often overlooked when considering Neo-Impressionism. Her perspective made me realize that I myself never truly look at the content of Neo-Impressionist works because I’m usually too fascinated with the technique used. However, Homburg stressed that the technique is important because it suggests a sense of radiance and allows the content of the images to resonate with the viewer.

The exhibition focuses on a time when there was an active exchange of ideas between painters, writers, composers, and poets which encouraged a synergy of senses. One of the pieces, Setting Sun, Sardine Fishing, Adagio by Paul Signac suggests this very idea of synthesis between art and music with his poetic title. Many of the works within the exhibition demonstrate a poetic quality that suggests a mood rather than a precise narrative, emphasizing a fantastical scene. Reality is captured, but it’s the stylistic techniques that create a feeling of dreaming. While one cannot ignore the ‘dots’, I urge you to embrace their revolutionary style and employ it to address their dreamlike, yet realistic content.

—Kelley Daley, Graduate Intern for Programs and Lectures

Contemporary Art Tribute Gallery to Anita Reiner

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Installation view of A Tribute to Anita Reiner

This fall, the Phillips is host to a tribute exhibition in memory of Anita Reiner, one of DC’s most active art collectors. The installation includes works by renowned contemporary artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Wangechi Mutu, Robert Mapplethorpe, El Anatsui, Shilpa Gupta, and Shirin Neshat, among others.

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Installation view of Gabriel Orozco’s Common Dream (Sheep) (1996) and Zhang Huan’s Ash Head No. 24 (2007).

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Installation view of Mimmo Paladino’s Vento del mattino (1981) and Wangechi Mutu’s Blackthrone XII (2012).

Pedro Lasch’s Abstract Nationalism / National Abstraction: Part 2

On October 27, artist Pedro Lasch will premiere his work Abstract Nationalism/National Abstraction: Anthems for Four Voices at The Phillips Collection as part of the International Forum Weekend in Washington. In this audio-visual performance, national anthems of specific countries are sung in the language of the country listed alphabetically after it in the World Almanac.

In a six part blog series, Curatorial Intern Lauren Reuter asks the artist about this work and how it fits into the Phillips, art, and politics. Read Part 1 here.

How do national symbols play into artistic representation?

I’m interested in promoting multilingualism and a multinational identity and fighting against monolingual and monocultural constructs. I think many of our countries and many of our policymakers, internationally speaking, are still too caught up with the past version of culture where you only speak one language, you only belong to one nation, etc. This work is an attempt to represent the complexity of who we are nowadays.

Pedro Lasch, Schematic Scores, Flag Fusions and Visual Props from Abstract Nationalism & National Abstraction (2001/2014)

Pedro Lasch, Schematic Scores, Flag Fusions and Visual Props from Abstract Nationalism & National Abstraction (2001/2014)

In the 1990s, I observed a really paradoxical and kind of troubling phenomenon: artists are assumed to be very critical of nationalism. Very few artists would stand and sing the anthem in front of a crowd. In sports, it’s normal. If you represent your national team, you just sing the anthem! Imagine you ask all artists who represent their country to sing the anthem before their show opens. It would be hilarious, right? Half of them would refuse to do it because we don’t like to be pigeon-holed into ethnic or national identities. The nation-state has been the topic of a lot of the most critical artworks in art history.

And so I thought it was really fascinating that while artists still maintain these critical perspectives, they all agree to represent their countries at events like the Venice Biennale. Some countries do have people who are not their national subjects represent their country at a biennial, but that is a small and newly emerging trend. Up until about 10 years ago, when I was coming up with this project, if you wanted to be in any of the international biennials you had to agree to be there because your country chose you. So it was a very bizarre thing to me as an artist. It seemed so out of place, like we’re working with cultural constructs that don’t really match how we operate. And of course as artists, we want to say, well no that’s not how it really is, you were chosen because you were a good artist.

I wanted to do work that was able to confront these contradictions, and so as I was thinking of the cultural complexity of nationalism, I realized that the anthem is actually the deepest-entrenched national symbol or cultural construct. The moment you hear your anthem, something happens in your head. I think it’s even more powerful than seeing a flag. We may be critical of it, but it’s still there. And I think it has to do with childhood; we were taught these things, we were asked to sing them. I am fascinated by the historical use of flags and anthems and the kind of deep sentimental attachment they can create toward the nation-state. That’s another reason for me to propose this multilingual, multinational performance: it becomes harder to create totalitarian structures when you have people actually considering themselves a mixture of specific things.