In June of this year I moderated a captivating conversation between artists Frank Stella and Leo Villareal at the Phillips Collection during a symposium held in conjunction with our exhibition Kandinsky and the Harmony of Silence. I was very pleased to learn during our Phillips trip to the Miami Beach art fairs last week that Leo Villareal was so inspired by his encounter with Stella at the Phillips that he created a new light work in homage to the artist, which was unveiled in Conner Contemporary Art’s booth at the PULSE art fair. The work, entitled Scramble, consists of a square light box whose rapidly changing light-emitting diodes recreate the color-shift effect of Stella’s 1967 sets for Merce Cunningham’s dance piece of the same title. For Cunningham’s Scramble, Stella stretched vividly-colored cloth over rectangular aluminum frames and mounted them onto casters that were moved quickly around the stage resulting in an ever-shifting collage of purple, blue, red , green, yellow, and orange. Stella later created his celebrated Scramble series of paintings and prints made up of concentric squares of varying colors.
Steve Jobs who passed away two days ago at the age of 56 was perhaps the greatest creative personality the world will ever know. He was a visionary CEO who thought like an artist. He forever changed the world we live in. There have of course been others before him: Freud, Einstein, Oppenheimer, Henry Ford come to mind foremost, but the knowledge or products they have given us have at best been ambiguously beneficial to mankind. Jobs managed to give us unambiguous happiness. We never knew that we wanted the products he conceived but once he gave them to us they not only became indispensable to our lives, but they made us happy.
This may be the single most important contribution Jobs has made to mankind. Spinoza, the seventeenth-century Jesuit philosopher once wrote that “all happiness or unhappiness solely depends upon the quality of the object to which we are attached by love.”
As neuroscience has recently confirmed, we love our iPhones, literally.
Steve Jobs will be remembered for many reasons, most of which begin with a lowercase “i,” but he will forever be loved for giving us happiness.
Last June The Phillips Collection acquired its first painting by the New York artist Tobi Kahn, Lyie (1991). It has now been installed in the spiral staircase of the museum’s Goh Annex. Given by Victoria Schonfeld in memory of her parents, the painting is one of Kahn’s most important paintings of his mature period when forms other than landscape, such as flowers, became a dominant theme. Like most of Kahn’s paintings, Lyie is built up of about 20 layers, beginning with modeling paste containing marble dust on top of white underpainting, followed by opaque paint layers, and finally, a layer of translucent washes.
Earlier this year, Kahn gave an inspiring keynote address at the Phillips during its Art & Innovation Design Gathering, an annual meeting of creative minds that is jointly presented by the Phillips and the University of Virginia.
This week Kahn was invited to speak at Georgetown University by the Program for Jewish Civilization. In conversation with Ori Soltes who teaches theology, philosophy, and art history at Georgetown University, Kahn spoke passionately about how he does not consider himself a Jewish artist or a painter or a sculptor, but just an artist; yet at the same time he cannot separate the knowledge of his Jewish heritage from art history. This combination undoubtedly contributes to Kahn’s unique style of painting that seems equally influenced by Jewish mysticism, such as the color symbolism of the Kabbalah, and the tradition of American modernism, so richly represented by The Phillips Collection’s holdings of Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Toward the end of the conversation, Kahn expressed gratitude to The Phillips Collection for his painting being given such generous placement: “Artists always want to have more space, ” he added, “The Phillips Collection is the perfect space.”