When Does Art Become Multimedia?

Two visitors sit on a bench in the middle of the Rothko Room at the Phillips

Oil on canvas or multimedia? Image: The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Photo: Benjamin Resine

Recent discussions of Bernhard Hildebrandt’s A Conjugation of Verb both here and elsewhere have encouraged me to reconsider the idea of “multimedia” art. The installation is a clear multimedia experience, combining visual art with sound and video to convey meaning. When visiting the exhibition last week, a friend commented that he found the work especially interesting within the context of a collection dominated by more straightforward examples of visual art. His remark prompted me to consider the extent to which many, if not all, pieces of art in the Phillips can actually be seen as multimedia works.

Take, for example, the Rothko Room. Unlike some of the Phillips’s more open galleries, this space is very small and intimate, eliciting silence and contemplation. The layout of the room is also of note; when Rothko visited the Phillips in 1961, he requested that the furniture in the space be limited to a single bench. In this sense, though the four Rothko paintings are remarkable and evocative on their own, the experience of viewing them at the Phillips is inseparable from the experience of inhabiting the gallery itself. The space—from its size and attributes to its ambience and furnishings (or lack thereof)—can be considered not only a vehicle for viewing the medium of art, but a medium itself.

We often don’t consider the ways in which the color of a wall or the lighting of a room affects our interpretation of an artwork. Yet all of these media, though traditionally seen as external to the artwork, form a context inextricably tied to our perceptions. With its carefully mediated spaces, Hildebrandt’s installation seems to make that concept explicit. What experiences have you had when place came together with art?

Marissa Medansky, Director’s Office Intern

Intersecting El Greco

El Greco, The Repentant St. Peter, between 1600 and 1614. Oil on canvas, 36 7/8 x 29 5/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1922

El Greco, The Repentant St. Peter, between 1600 and 1614. Oil on canvas,
36 7/8 x 29 5/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1922

Baltimore-based artist Bernard Hildebrandt gives El Greco’s The Repentant St. Peter (1600-1614) a face lift (literally) in the new Intersections project at The Phillips Collection. Two things about this project are interesting to me: the sound that echoes across the room and the placement of the art work. The sound to me is like a low growl emanating from St. Peter’s mouth, an agonized groan. It is mesmerizing. Moreover, the work is shown in low lighting, giving the room an eerie atmosphere. The project sits right in the middle of the permanent collection. Just around the corner is the cheerful Luncheon of the Boating Party (1880-81) by Renoir.

El Greco was recalling the traditions of Byzantium icon paintings with his up-close view of the holy man’s face, but in the then-contemporary Baroque style depicting high drama and emotion. Hildebrandt brings El Greco’s work into the 21st century by converting a series of images into a new medium–video.

We will have a chance to hear more from Hildebrandt about the process behind his work in an Artist’s Perspective talk this Saturday, July 20, at 3 pm. I wonder what El Greco would have thought of the intersection?

Jane Clifford, Marketing Intern

Bernhard Hildebrandt, Peter, 2013 © 2013 Courtesy of the artist

Bernhard Hildebrandt, Peter, 2013 © 2013 Courtesy of the artist

Separated at Birth?


Left: A detail of El Greco’s Laocoon, on view at the National Gallery of Art.
Right: El Greco’s The Repentant St. Peter, currently on view at the Phillips.

Phillips educators saw a familiar face during a field trip to the National Gallery of Art on Monday. Check out the uncanny resemblance between the title figure in the  Gallery’s Laocoön (c. 1610/1614) and the Phillips’s The Repentant St. Peter (between 1600 and 1614), both by El Greco.

It was a very timely happenstance considering the Intersections project A Conjunction of Verb opening tomorrow at the Phillips, in which Baltimore-based artist Bernhard Hildebrandt reinterprets El Greco’s work in photography and video.

Are there more St. Peter lookalikes out there?

Natalie Mann, School, Outreach, and Family Programs Coordinator