A Wax Room for Anselm

Last month I traveled from Paris to Barjac, a small town in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon northwest of Avignon, to attend the inauguration of a permanent installation by German artist Wolfgang Laib. Laib had been working for the last four years on an enormous beeswax room, not unlike the one he created at The Phillips Collection last year, but on a much larger scale—an underground chamber, about 40 meters (over 130 feet) long with many more lightbulbs but equally aromatic and meditative. Laib’s newest wax room, entitled From the Known to the Unknown—To Where Is Your Oracle Leading You (2014), is installed at La Ribaute, on the grounds of a former silk factory that is now the studio of the German artist Anselm Kiefer.

Laib Wax Room

Wolfgang Laib in his wax room at La Ribaute. Photo: Klaus Ottmann

Kiefer began developing this complex in the mid-1990s. It spreads over 86 acres and includes three 19th-century stone buildings surrounded by fields and woods. Two of the residential buildings are now connected by a industrial-sized enclosed footbridge that Kiefer built for his two young children when he still lived on the grounds (he has since moved with his family to Paris). Kiefer’s Gesamtkunstwerk is now comprised of more than 50 separate buildings out of glass, steel, or concrete as well as a series of underground tunnels—all housing his mostly monumental paintings and sculptures.

La Ribaute

La Ribaute, France. Photo: Klaus Ottmann

Laib’s wax room at La Ribaute is the first of a series of works by other artists Kiefer is planning to commission as he is starting to transform La Ribaute into a public exhibition site. The inauguration, which was attended by 300 guests including artists, collectors, and curators, took place on May 31 with a concert of music by Edgar Varese and Heinz Holliger, performed by the French Classical flutist Sophie Cherrier, a member of the renown Ensemble International, and an opulent dinner in Kiefer’s residential quarters.

One of the most impressive installations by Kiefer is an underground chamber that contains a small version of his work Les Femmes de la révolution (1992), which is comprised of lead beds, one photograph on lead, and wall texts. The work is inspired by The Women of the French Revolution, a chronicle by 19th-century historian Jules Michelet. A larger version of this installation is currently on view as part of Kiefer’s semi-permanent exhibition at Mass Moca in North Adams, Massachusetts.

Les femmes de la révolution

Anselm Kiefer, Les Femmes del la révolution (Installation at La Ribaute). Photo: Klaus Ottmann

Sijae Byun: Phillips Collection Emerging Artist Prize

Sijae Byun, Wind #7 in Jungle, 2013. Acrylic and ink on silk, 50 ½ x 37 ½ inches. The Phillips Collection; acquired with funds from Hank and Carol Brown Goldberg

Sijae Byun, Wind #7 in Jungle, 2013. Acrylic and ink on silk, 50 1/2 x 37 1/2 inches. The Phillips Collection. Acquired with funds from Hank and Carol Brown Goldberg

Following up on the successful purchase of our first work by a contemporary African artist, Aimée Mpane at last year’s (e)merge art fair (made possible by Gallerist’s Herb and Dorothy Vogel Award), one of our enthusiastic and generous trustees, Carol Brown Goldberg and her husband Hank, donated funds to purchase a work by an emerging artist from this year’s (e)merge art fair.

Once again, our director Dorothy Kosinski, my colleague Vesela Sretenovic, and I were given the task to select a work from the fair. We each spent hours roaming the rooms and corridors at the Capitol Skyline Hotel that were taken over by galleries and independent artists, but kept coming back to an installation of intriguing paintings on silk by a young Korean artist, Sijae Byun, that were on view in the room  occupied by the Washington Project for the Arts, an independent organization that since 1975 has served as a catalyst for emerging art.  One painting in particular stood out for all of us: Wind #7 in  Jungle (2013)—an aggregation of painted biomorphic shapes and moiré patterns produced by the superposition of multiple layers of pale purple silk. The artist, who received her training at  Kookmin University, Seoul, Korea and at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and is now based in Maryland, derives much of her imagery from the relationship of nature and architecture, inspired by the philosophical and religious tradition of Daoism, best known through its most influential text, the Chinese Tao Te Ching or Daodejing.

Sijae Byun’s painting is not the first work by a Korean artist to enter The Phillips Collection. The Phillips owns a painting by the pioneering abstract painter Kim Whan-ki (1913–1974), 27-II-70 (1970) and four photographs by the Korean photographer Nikki S. Lee. Interestingly, Duncan Phillips’s first transatlantic journey in 1910 was not to Europe, but an extended family vacation to Asia that was primarily spent in Japan. It had a profound and lasting influence on Phillips, sparking a  lifelong interest in merging an Eastern aesthetic with a Western sensibility in his own collection by acquiring American and European works that were attuned to Japanese formal values. In an article titled “The Problem of Art in Japan,” written in 1907 while he was a senior at Yale University, Phillips defined the principal difference between Western and Japanese art: “With us man is the cynosure of artistic eyes, while with them he is vouchsafed less attention than any bit of natural beauty, such as a spray of grass or a spring of cherry blossoms. Nature, not man is ever his inspiration.”

I believe that there is a good chance that Duncan Phillips would have approved of Sijae Byun’s painterly synthesis of natural beauty and man-made structures.

 

 

 

The Lyonel Feininger Unit

Installation of works by Lionel Feininger in the house. Photos: Sue Ahn

Installation of works by Lyonel Feininger in the house. Photos: Sue Ahn

Three years ago, the Phillips Collection received four watercolors by the German-American painter, printmaker, and illustrator Lyonel Feininger. The works came to the Phillips as part of a promised gift pledge made by Dr. Bernhard and Marlene Witkop in 2005. They entered the museum’s collection after Dr. Witkop’s death at the age of 93 in 2010: Perfume and Sweet Candy, 1948; Blasiuskirche Nordhausen, 1932; Steamers with Smoke Banner, 1951; and Schiffe, 1943.

Dr. Witkop was a German-born organic chemist who had worked at the National Institutes of Health for more than 35 years. The Witkop’s Feiningers joined three Feiningers purchased by Duncan Phillips in the 1940s: Village, 1927; Spook I, 1940; and Waterfront, 1942. In 2012 a beautiful woodcut, Cruising Sailing Ships II, 1919, was added through a gift from Gail and John Thomason in memory of Ritalou and Robert O. Harris.

Duncan Phillips often strived to have “units” of works by a single artists, and the museum’s newly formed unit of eight Feininger works are now on view in the Phillips House.

Lyonel Charles Feininger (1871–1956) was born in New York City as the son of German-American violinist and composer Karl Feininger and American singer Elizabeth Feininger. In 1887, at the age of 16, he traveled to Germany to study art and remained there, working as an artist, art teacher, and caricaturist until 1937, when the Nazis declared his works to be “degenerate,” forcing him to return to New York.

In 1938 Feininger was asked to design two murals for the exterior of the Marine Transportation Building at the New York’s World’s Fair. It was his first opportunity to make his work known to a broader public in the United States. Feininger had been fascinated by ships as early as the 1880s when he would draw boats on the Hudson River, and later in Europe during visits to the Baltic Sea. Several of the water colors in the Phillips’s collection are a testament to Feininger’s lifelong attraction to nautical themes.