My Own “Spring Break”: New Photography Gifts at the Phillips

View of new photography installation at the Phillips. Photo: Joshua Navarro

View of new photography installation at the Phillips. Photo: Joshua Navarro

I, for one, have cherry blossom fatigue. As a D.C. resident for the past ten years, I welcome spring with open arms but have never understood all the hype behind the blossom-mania that overtakes D.C. in March and April. Forget cherry blossoms! Give me a Manhattan street view, circa 1935, or a carefully composed photograph of an oil field worker spooling cables, or a portrait of Marcel Duchamp standing behind one of his complex installations–all in black and white. Thankfully, the blossom season has waned (as have my allergies!), and the Phillips has the remedy to my too-much-spring fever. A new installation of recent and promised gifts to the collection proves that there’s nothing dull or lifeless about black and white photography. Associate Curator for Research Susan Behrends Frank created a dynamic installation in a gallery on the first floor of our Sant building, displaying photographs that range in date from the 1930s to the 1970s and featuring portraits, landscapes, scenes from American life, and photographic experimentations with light and movement.

©Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Berenice Abbott, Under the “El” Lower East Side, New York, c. 1935. Gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 in. Gift of Lisa Finn, 2012 © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Highlights include photography of life in New York City, such as Berenice Abbott’s Under the “El” Lower East Side, New York (c. 1935) seen above, along with beautiful, gritty photographs of Harlem in the 1960s in Bruce Davidson’s East 100th Street Series. Davidson’s eye for capturing the pulse of a time and place is also apparent in photographs from his Los Angeles Series. Because nothing says “L.A.” like people in their cars, am I right?

women in car

Installation view of Bruce Davidson, Looking through car window at white car with four women, Los Angeles Series, 1964. Gelatin silver print,11 x 14 in. Promised gift of Saul Levi. Photo: Joshua Navarro

Before Instagram made us all amateur photographers, there was Gjon Mili, a self-taught pioneer in the use of new photographic technology. Mili was one of the first to use electronic flash and stroboscopic light to create photographs that capture a sequence of actions in just one exposure. Many of his notable images, such as Multiple image of little boy running (1941) reveal movement often too rapid or complex for the naked eye to discern.

Installation shot of Mili's Multiple Image of little boy running, 1941  Photo: Liza Key Strelka

Installation view of Mili’s Multiple Image of little boy running, 1941. Photo: Liza Key Strelka

The world of blue-collar vocations is elevated to new heights in the photographs of Esther Bubley and Alfred Eisenstadt. In the photo below, Bubley’s lens seems to simply capture a worker absorbed in his duties, but her eye for the abstract qualities of light, shadow, and machinery provides her composition with a modern, almost painterly feel.

Esther Bubley Untitled (Workman), oil field, man with wire/cable spool signaling to his helper on the derrick, 1945 Gelatin silver print, 13 1/8 x 10 ¼ inches, Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

Esther Bubley, Untitled (Workman), oil field, man with wire/cable spool signaling to his helper on the derrick, 1945. Gelatin silver print, 13 1/8 x 10 1/4 in. Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

And, finally, one of my personal favorites, an Arnold Newman photograph of Marcel Duchamp standing behind one of his pieces from 1942, probably dreaming up his next mind-boggling installation and playing the perfect role of “aloof artist genius:”

Arnold Newman, Marcel Duchamp, 1942, Gelatin silver print, Gift of Lisa Finn, 2012. © Arnold Newman Properties/Getty Images 2013

Arnold Newman, Marcel Duchamp, 1942. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Lisa Finn, 2012. © Arnold Newman Properties/Getty Images 2013

So come on in and soak up some non-spring scenery. The new installation, on view through the end of May, provides a respite from the frantic tourist season, high pollen count, and the (slowly) climbing temperatures.

On fait du lèche-vitrine . . . Phillips Book Prize

Scholar Terri Weissman's books on documentary photography on display in the shop window at Jeu de Paume, Paris. Photo: Terri Weissman

Scholar Terri Weissman’s books on documentary photography on display in the shop window at Jeu de Paume, Paris. Photo: Terri Weissman

Phillips Book Prize winner, Terri Weissman, snapped this photo while in Paris over the weekend. Weissman, a scholar on American photographer Berenice Abbott, was in the city of light to participate in a symposium in conjunction with the exhibition Berenice Abbott (1898-1991): Photographs at  Jeu de Paume. Weissman’s manuscript on the life and career of Berenice Abbott won the 2008 Phillips Book Prize and was published in partnership with the University of California Press as the second volume in a series of first books sponsored by The Phillips Collection Center for the Study of Modern Art.

Megan Clark, Manager of Center Initiatives

 

 

 

New York State of Mind

Photo: Piper Grosswendt

A fresh suite of artworks quietly debuted earlier this month in a small gallery, on the second floor of the House. As hallmark pieces of the museum’s American art collection shipped off to Tokyo for To See as Artists See: American Art from The Phillips Collection, and with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in mind, Installations Manager Bill Koberg thought to fill the space with a few choice pieces of New York abstraction from the 1930s-50s.

Gandy Brodie’s undated painting Fragment of a City (1957) anchors the East side of the room, opposite Loren MacIver’s New York (1952). A subtler MacIver, The Window Shade (1948) and Berenice Abbott’s modern consideration of the city as landscape Canyon: Broadway and Exchange Place (1936) hang on the North wall across from Aaron Siskind’s photograph New York 6 (1951) and Ralph Flint’s undated colored pencil drawing Metropolis (undated), acquired by the Collection in 1931. The Flint work brings with it some mystery — unframed prior to its recent hanging, Koberg is uncertain if it’s ever graced the walls of the Phillips. Continue reading “New York State of Mind” »