What’s in a Title?

pb_loren

Loren MacIver, The Window Shade, 1948, Oil on canvas 43 x 29 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1951

In art, we often think of abstraction and representation as being complete opposites. We think of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, titled with numbers, as being polar opposites to Paul Cézanne’s still lifes, labeled exactly what they are: apples, oranges, and flowers. But what if something is both abstract and representational? Is it possible? Currently on view is Loren MacIver’s painting, The Window Shade. At first glance, the work appears completely abstract, but upon closer inspection of both the painting and the wall text beside it, we learn that it does in fact represent something from real life: a window shade.

Walking past MacIver’s work, I recognized that I liked the aesthetic, but it didn’t necessarily evoke a specific emotion from me. Circling back, I decided to look at it more closely. When I approach a piece, I tend to ignore the wall text at first and look instead at the surface texture. I liked that the artist applied the grayish blue color very thinly, leaving specks of the canvas showing behind it. To me, that reveals more of the process, which is something I like to be aware of when studying a work of art. Scanning the painting, I then noticed a recognizable object in the bottom fourth of the canvas: a string hanging down with a hollow circular pendant attached. I wondered why this would be there given the abstract nature of the work. It was only then that I turned to the title, The Window Shade. Suddenly, the piece had so much more meaning for me. I began to think of the specks of untouched canvas as illumination from street lamps coming through the rips of a worn piece of fabric. The slightly different hue in the bottom quarter of the canvas, separated by a darker border, became the color of twilight filtered by the glass on top of it. These are conclusions I would not have come up with had I not stopped to read the wall text beside the piece and inspect it more closely.

So what is in a title? A title can help us pull meaning from a seemingly non-representational work of art. It can turn thinly painted canvases, almost monochromatic in nature, into old window shades, evoking a sense of nostalgia for a passing day.

Annie Dolan, Marketing and Communications Intern

(b)logs for the Fire: Part 2

Yesterday, I posted about the details that can emerge if you focus on what is around (or specifically, below) the art on the walls. Here are some more examples of the tiny stories told by the tiny details and embellishments on the fireplaces sprinkled throughout the museum.

blue tile detail

Over eighty ornate blue and white tiles depict scenes of castles, ships, and farmers. Each tile is different from its neighbor, showing the artistry of this work on a fireplace in an upstairs room of the original Phillips house.

secret face detail

Is that a face hidden in the East Parlor fireplace andiron, or just an artful arrangement of leaves?

Roig detail

Bernardi Roig’s An Illuminated Head for Blinky P. (The Gun) cuts off a bright yellow fireplace from closer observation. What other artworks, and what other shoes, have come and gone before this yellow brick fireplace?

Emily Hurwitz, Marketing and Communications Intern

(b)logs for the Fire: Part 1

Part of what makes The Phillips Collection unique is that the art on the walls is always rotating. But it is also important to note that some of the residents of the collection do have permanent homes. So permanent, in fact, that they were built right into the walls. Many visitors are perhaps familiar with the ornate and beautiful detailing of the Music Room fire place, but sprinkled throughout the gallery are several others—each with their own unique details, styles, and character. Here a just a few examples of what can emerge if you look closer.

baby detail

This little guy is a permanent resident of the West Parlor. What have those little baby eyes seen through the years?

fleur de lis detail

The repeating fleur de lis-style pattern on these bricks lies underneath a glassy, cracked glaze. From certain angles, you can barely make out the design at all.

Swirl detail

Hidden swirls and circles everywhere! This fireplace has a decorative wrought-iron detail and a textured fireplace interior wall.

Check back tomorrow for more fireplace details.

Emily Hurwitz, Marketing and Communications Intern