The Whimsical and Free Artwork of Gene Davis

Installation view of Gene Davis’s “Untitled” works, on view in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee

“My last show of symbol paintings are just Klee blown-up large.”—Gene Davis

Gene Davis acknowledged the profound impact of Paul Klee—“his very first mentor”—on his artistic development. Beginning in the 1940s, Davis made regular visits to “the Klee room” at the Phillips, where Klee’s small masterpieces left an “unforgettable impression.” These untitled works by Davis with playful, flat forms were among a series of symbol paintings the artist made at the end of his life that harken back to his early experiments of the 1950s, when he painted freehand compositions with organic motifs (for example, Black Flowers). Davis attributed his “urge to do whimsical, free-hand drawings” to his “early infatuation with Paul Klee and children’s art.” Like Klee, Davis valued spontaneity and intuition over intellect—aspects that lay at the heart of Davis’s artistic methods, whether in his stripe paintings (such as Red Devil) or in his more gestural works.

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

Tuesday Tunes: A Playlist for Kenneth Noland

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 respond to create a playlist in response to their individual artwork. Mika Rautiainen, IT Support Specialist, created this playlist in response to Kenneth Noland’s “In the Garden.”

Kenneth Noland, In the Garden, 1952. Oil on hardboard, 19 1/2 x 30 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1952 © Estate of Kenneth Noland/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

My playlist for Kenneth Noland’s In the Garden is fairly short—it’s the EP to the everyone else’s LP, so to speak. I went with my gut, and while some of the songs have more clear word association with the painting, I didn’t particularly look for one, nor did I look for songs of the painting’s time period.

The first three songs came to me immediately—they are what I imagine to be playing inside the painting, eerie yet fairly mellow. The last two songs popped into my mind the second time I looked at it in detail. Why grunge? I don’t know, I’m not really even that big of a fan. I suppose it’s something about the painting’s color and shapes that just scream early ’90s to me.

Mika Rautiainen, IT Support Specialist

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.

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.