Pedro Lasch’s Abstract Nationalism / National Abstraction: Part 6

On October 27 artist Pedro Lasch premiered 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 herePart 2 herePart 3 here, Part 4, and Part 5 here.

Exploring themes of nationality and diplomacy during the International Forum Weekend will undoubtedly engender discussions on art and politics. What do you see as the relationship between the two? Do you see a tension, a playfulness, both?

To me, that’s very much tied in the title of the work. The title is a provocation. I’m bonding two words that we don’t like to see in relation to each other: abstraction and nationalism. As long as there has been art, there have been debates about whether it should be political or not. But whenever you speak of abstraction in art, there have been strong tendencies to assume that art must be separate from politics.

The Phillips shows a lot of this type of artwork—Rothko being the most famous example. In Rothko’s generation, many artists were blacklisted, very politically active. But in their work, you don’t see direct politics. They actually wanted that separation. The way I see that relationship between nationalism and abstraction is that it forces people to think, “Wait, isn’t abstract art also political? And aren’t some of the forms of nationalism also art?”

Performance of Pedro Lasch's Abstract Nationalism / National Abstraction at The Phillips Collection

Performance of Pedro Lasch’s Abstract Nationalism / National Abstraction at The Phillips Collection

A few years after the occupation of Iraq in 2003, they tried to institute a new flag to eliminate the handwriting that had been put on it during Saddam Hussein’s reign. There was a national competition, and a contemporary Iraqi artist won. The artist chose the colors blue, white, and green. It was a nice half moon, a beautiful design—a very abstract representation of the Kurdish, the Suni, the Shi’ite. People were outraged: “You’re crazy! Our colors are red, white, and black with the green star. Those are the Arab Union colors, you can’t mess with that. The only other country in the region with white and blue is Israel.” Politically and from a national standpoint, it was a fiasco, all because of the choice of color. But if you say, “Who’s afraid of red, yellow, and blue in a Barnett Newmann painting?” It’s just this big colorfield painting with three colors. It’s a flag! Visually speaking, the two are not that far from each other. We just like to pretend that they are. The language of high modernism is deeply indebted to national symbols and vice versa. It’s not by chance that Jasper John’s most famous artwork is the US flag. Some will say the two should never mix, and some will say the two are always mixed and its nonsense to say they aren’t. I enjoy the pluralism and the huge range of artistic practices.

Let’s Be Friends: Relationships among the Neo-Impressionists

Theo van Rysselberghe, The Scheldt Upstream from Antwerp, Evening, 1892. Oil on canvas, 26 3/4 x 35 1/2 in. Collection of Bruce and Robbi Toll

Theo van Rysselberghe, The Scheldt Upstream from Antwerp, Evening, 1892. Oil on canvas, 26 3/4 x 35 1/2 in. Private collection

This Sunday’s panel about the artistic friendships and rivalries between Neo-Impressionists and other artists of the time inspired me to look deeper at the relationships among the artists inNeo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities. Strong bonds existed between members of Les Vingt (XX) in Belgium and artists in the Société des Artistes Indépendants in Paris. For instance, Theo van Rysselberghe and Paul Signac were very close friends, and Rysselberghe would frequently visit Signac at his home in St. Tropez. Their time together at the seaside was spent sailing as well as discussing and creating art. Others, including Henri-Edmond Cross and Emile Verhaeren, would occasionally join the two on these trips. In Paris, multiple artists from the Neo-Impressionist movement would live together for periods of time or share studio space. This is the type of environment in which Signac hosted weekly social gatherings, during which painters, poets, critics, and musicians could come together to share ideas. The personal relationships between these artists explains some of the similarities in their works from that time, and reinforces the connection between them.

-Sara Swift, Graduate Intern for Programs and Lectures

Pin To Win: Dream Home of Realities Contest


Neo-Impressionist painters relied on the use of the surreal grounded in reality to create scenes of mystical, dreamlike beauty. Their use of vibrant colors helped them capture a certain mood and tone. The Phillips Collection wants to know what vibrant colors and textures you would use to decorate your dream home! Enter our Dream Home of Realities Pinterest contest for a chance to win a grand prize that might make the walls of your dream home become a reality.

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • $500 worth of Farrow & Ball gift vouchers
  • A Farrow & Ball color consultation: a personal in-home color consultation with a trained Color Consultant from the new Farrow & Ball DC showroom in Friendship Heights. The Color Consultant will consider the light in the space, the shape of the room and architectural details, as well as the overall look you are trying to create before recommending a color scheme using Farrow & Ball paints and wallpapers.


1) Follow The Phillips Collection on Pinterest.

2) Create your own “Dream Home of Realities Contest” Pinterest board! Curate a board for your dream home inspired by scenes, colors, and textures in Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities: Painting, Poetry, Music. Think about palette, lighting, mood—when you think of where you’d love to live, what do you see? To qualify for the grand prize, boards must include at least 4 pins from the Phillips’s Neo-Impressionism board and at least 4 pins from Farrow & Ball’s many home inspiration boards, but what you include is up to you—get creative! See our inspiration board here to get those creative pins flowing:

pinterest inspiration board

3) E-mail a link to your completed board to with subject line “Dream Home of Realities Submission” to be officially entered into the contest.

The winner will be selected and contacted by January 16, 2015. We’re excited to be #NeoImpressed by your creativity!


Images: (1) Paul Signac, Place des Lices, Saint-Tropez, Opus 242, 1893. Oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 32 1/4 in. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Acquired through the generosity of the Sarah Mellon Scaife Family. Photograph © 2014 Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2) Georges Seurat, Seascape at Port-en-Bessin, Normandy, 1888. Oil on canvas, 25 1/2 x 32 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of the W. Averell Harriman Foundation in memory of Marie N. Harriman, 1972.9.21 (3) Maximilien Luce, The Louvre at the Pont du Carrousel at Night, 1890. Oil on canvas, 25 x 32 in. Private Collection (4) Theo van Rysselberghe, Canal in Flanders (Gloomy Weather), 1894. Oil on canvas, 23 3/4 x 31 1/2 in. Private collection