Seeing Red: Color, Form, and Sensory Experiences in the Music Room

Music Room at The Phillips Collection. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Duncan Phillips believed fervently in the intimate relationship between music and the visual arts. The Music Room has always been a unique gallery where this juxtaposition literally plays out during our Sunday Concerts series: melodies reverberating off the wood-paneled walls, the room packed with chairs, light filtering in through the windows, and an audience witness to this beautiful intersection of music and art. Frequently, artists well known in the museum’s collection, such as Milton Avery, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Gustave Courbet, John Marin, and Augustus Vincent Tack graced the walls.

With this inaugural installation after the re-opening of the original house galleries, the curatorial team saw an opportunity to change things up and feature some more recent acquisitions alongside old(er) favorites. The color red emerged as a guiding theme, allowing us to create some interesting conversations about color, form, and narrative between modern and contemporary art.

Joseph Marioni’s Crimson Painting, with its highly-saturated, monochromatic, luminous surface, conveys sensation over information and is narrative-free, focusing solely on the exploration and advancement of color and light, or as he says, “the liquid light.” Viewing the painting is a sensory experience. The color red, at its most intense and pure, appears to almost drip off the canvas onto the walls. Much like the live music played in the room during concerts, Marioni’s “liquid light” evokes a deeply personal, emotional response.

Contrast this painting with Piet Mondrian’s Composition No. 9 with Yellow and Red, to the right of the fireplace across the room from the Marioni, with its carefully orchestrated yet lively rhythm punctuated by primary colors. Its musicality derives from the intense contemplation of composition in relation to color and line. Whereas Marioni’s work echoes the emotional experience music provides, Mondrian’s pays homage to the rhythm and melody carefully composed in each music piece performed in the music room.

On the west wall, you’ll find Alex Katz’s Brisk Day I-III, 1990, with its repeated subject looking over her shoulder not only at the viewer, but also across the room at selections from Georg Baselitz’s La sedia di Paolo, 1988. Again, the visitor will likely pick up on the vibrant reds in both groupings, but there’s more to their inclusion. In the Katz lithographs, like the Mondrian and Marioni paintings, the subject matter is secondary to the formal properties (color, light) of the series, although the woman glancing over her shoulder could also be interpreted as a playful reference to the spectatorship during the concerts and of the visitors to the museum galleries on any given day.

The Baselitz works are a wink to the chairs that fill the music room during our Sunday concerts, but they also are similar to the other works in their formal focus of the physical and pictorial properties of their medium, and to the Katz in their repetition of forms.

Recently acquired sculptures below the Katz lithographs punctuate the installation, mimicking the focus on form and color. Fun fact: It is the first time we’ve installed sculptures in this space. We hope our visitors will enjoy the reenergized Music Room.

Volunteer Spotlight: Natalie Hall

In this series, Manager of Visitor and Family Engagement Emily Bray profiles volunteers within the museum. Phillips volunteers are an integral part of the museum and help in many ways: greeting and guiding guests through the museum, helping with Sunday Concerts, assisting patrons in the library, helping out with Phillips after 5 and special events, and so much more. Our volunteers offer a wealth of expertise and experience to the museum, and we are delighted to highlight several them.

Natalie Hall, Art Information Volunteer

Natalie Hall (left)

What year did you start volunteering at The Phillips Collection?
I began volunteering in 2008 after I retired from my position as an administrator at an independent school in Alexandria. We were members of the Phillips so volunteering was an easy extension of that interest.

What do you see as the most valuable aspect of your volunteering?
I love to interact with guests who have a range of questions from the mundane but important “Where’s the restroom?” to discussion of Duncan Phillips’s life and ideas as a collector.  The exhibit Moving Forward, Looking Back in the first gallery has really sparked curiosity about the Phillips family and the collection.

What do you do when you are not volunteering at The Phillips Collection?
We travel a lot to visit family in the US and Jordan and visit colleagues in Indonesia and Thailand.  I am also very involved with Arlington politics and lobby for the National Peace Corps Association.

What is your favorite room or painting here?
Like Duncan Phillips, I love the color of the Pierre Bonnard paintings and Vincent van Gogh’s “The Garden at Arles.” Georgia O’Keeffe is another favorite.

If you had to choose one word to describe the Phillips, what would it be?
Stimulating.

Share a fun fact about you!
I study Indonesian at the Embassy close to the Phillips. We taught in Java and Bali.  The wealth of art in all forms was fascinating, especially in Bali.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
Emily Bray has been so supportive of volunteers.  The flexibility of self-scheduling is most welcome. People should consider volunteering.

 

Volunteer Spotlight: Tiffany Lin

In this series, Manager of Visitor and Family Engagement Emily Bray profiles volunteers within the museum. Phillips volunteers are an integral part of the museum and help in many ways: greeting and guiding guests through the museum, helping with Sunday Concerts, assisting patrons in the library, helping out with Phillips after 5 and special events, and so much more. Our volunteers offer a wealth of expertise and experience to the museum, and we are delighted to highlight several them.

Tiffany Lin, Phillips Music Volunteer

Tiffany Lin

What year did you start volunteering at The Phillips Collection?
2016

What do you see as the most valuable aspect of your volunteering?
I enjoy seeing patrons who attend music concerts week after week, season after season. The Sunday Concerts have cultivated a community for music enthusiasts in DC to gather and share an afternoon together. I often witness audience members leaving concerts more invigorated than they were coming into the concert.

What do you do when you are not volunteering at The Phillips Collection?
I’m a business analyst at the Carlyle Group where I’ve worked for five years. In the fall, I will be joining the MBA program at the Wharton School in Philadelphia.

What is your favorite room or painting here?
The Music Room holds a special place in my heart. I’ve spent many moments unintentionally holding my breath in the Music Room, captive to the music vibrating off the dark wood paneling.

If you had to choose one word to describe Phillips, what would it be?
Sanctuary

Share a fun fact about you!
I play a bell tower instrument called the carillon and have performed concerts in 10 states since 2013 as a member of the Guild of Carillonneurs in North America. Come hear me play this summer at the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington on June 30 and the McDonogh School on July 6.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
While I’ve enjoyed exploring other nearby venues for Sunday Concerts, I am excited to be back in the Music Room after the renovation is completed this year!