The Phillips Collects: Ruth Duckworth

Ruth Duckworth, Untitled, 1989

Ruth Duckworth, Untitled, 1989, Porcelain, 15 1/2 x 7 7/8 x 3 in. Gift of Jane and Arthur Mason, 2016

In a career that spanned more than six decades, Ruth Duckworth (b. Hamburg, Germany 1919-d. Chicago, 2009) is recognized as one of the most innovative and important modernist sculptors. Although she began her career in Liverpool and London by exploring stone and wood carving, as well as metal casting, she ultimately decided to focus on ceramics in the mid-1950s. Her facility with clay led her to stoneware and porcelain, creating vessels and sculptures that were radically freeform, organic, and liberated from function. Most importantly, she demonstrated that clay was a viable medium for sculpture.

The Duckworth sculpture recently gifted to The Phillips Collection is an unglazed porcelain tabletop work from 1989. It is the first work by this pioneering modernist sculptor to enter the museum. Duckworth has been called an “alchemist of abstraction” whose prolific body of work in ceramics, stoneware, and bronze is boundary-crossing in its material innovation and visually seductive in its austere refinement of form. Her smooth forms have been influenced by both the stylized modernisms of Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi, and Isamu Noguchi, as well as ancient Egyptian, Mexican, and Cycladic art.

In her studio Duckworth had what she called her “play table” where she would begin every day using the parts of abstracted forms already sanded to the desired translucency. The Duckworth sculpture gifted to the Phillips is a unique object composed of two “blades.” Mounted vertically on a base, one slightly in front of the other, there is a sense of poised interaction between the two similar, yet different slab-like forms, with the shadow between an active linear element. Approaching clay as a sculptor, rather than as a potter, Duckworth brought aesthetic rigor to her work that masterfully continues the aesthetics of modernism into the 21st century.

A Constant State of Change: Painting Nature

William Baziotes, Sea Forms, 1951. Pastel paper mounted on board. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, purchase

“There is no particular system I follow when I begin a painting. Each painting has its own way of evolving…Each beginning suggests something. Once I sense the suggestion, I begin to paint intuitively.”—William Baziotes

William Baziotes, who studied objects at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, developed an interest in rendering the underwater world. Like Paul Klee, Baziotes strove to become one with nature by penetrating the mysteries of the world that lay hidden beneath the surface. Indeed, because of their close affinities, works by the two artists were shown together in several exhibitions throughout the 1940s and 50s.

In 1957, Baziotes and Klee were presented with French Surrealist Odilon Redon in an exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. The three were “creatively joined,” the catalogue noted. “In their emphasis on the beginnings of creation, they have shown us that every existence is in a state of development—that every plant, flower, animal, and being is in a state of change—that change is the essence of all nature, all mankind, and all art. . . . Through the free use of imagination, intuition, and visions they have transmitted the secrets of the new worlds of flora, fauna, and beings.”

This work is on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee through May 6, 2018.

Tuesday Tunes: A Playlist for Jackson Pollock

Taking inspiration from the major theme of music in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee, we paired 11 staff members with 11 works from the exhibition and asked them to create a playlist in response to their individual artwork. Miriam Deaver, Manager of School and Outreach Programs created this playlist in response to Jackson Pollock’s “Untitled (Page from a Lost Sketchbook).”

Jackson Pollock, Untitled (Page from a Lost Sketchbook), c. 1939–42, Brush and India ink on paper, 17 1/2 x 14 in., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Lee Krasner Pollock, 1982 © Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

As with most works by Jackson Pollock, the emphasis for me is the feeling his work evokes from the viewer. Devoid of color, yet acutely expressive, Untitled (Page from a Lost Sketchbook) conveys aggression, disconnection, and movement. Its raw quality emphasizes the hand of the artist, thus Pollock is also present in this playlist at times—he was here, and he left a legacy. Enjoy!

Miriam Deaver, Manager of School and Outreach Programs

Feeling inspired? Create your own playlist based around works in the exhibition and send it to us at and we may feature it on our blog and social media.