Made in the USA: E Pluribus Unum

Charles Sheeler, Skyscrapers, 1922. Oil on canvas, 20 x 13 in. Acquired 1926. The Phillips Collection, Washington DC

Made in the USA, which opens tomorrow, shines a light on the strength of American artists in The Phillips Collection. 80% of our collection is by American artists. At the time of Duncan Phillips’s death in 1966, there were about 2,000 works in the collection; 1,400 were American. Many of them were by living artists and quite a few were at the beginning of their careers. The last time the museum devoted this much space to American art was in 1976, in honor of the country’s bicentennial. Through this survey of fifty years of Duncan Phillips’s collecting, we hope to illustrate how he defined the modern spirit of American Art.

I Challenge You to a Kelly Haiku

Even as a museum educator and art historian, I struggle sometimes with understanding abstract works of art. A lack of subject matter, figures, and rational forms can be intimidating and at times even overwhelming. So, recently I challenged myself during my noon Spotlight Talk to discuss some of the most abstract works on view at the Phillips right now in Ellsworth Kelly: Panel Paintings 2004–2009.  I was inspired by a quote of Kelly’s: “Time is important in art, and sometimes art takes time to reveal itself.” I figured if I took time to engage with works I hardly understood, perhaps they would reveal themselves to me.

I posed this challenge to my tour group and they obliged by looking closely, sharing their observations, and finally drafting a haiku based on their favorite painting in the exhibition. Haiku are a traditional Japanese 17 syllable poem. Our haiku used the following format and Post-It notes to create simple yet powerful explanations of Kelly’s works.

Ellsworth Kelly,Yellow Relief over Red, 2004. Private collection. Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy the artist. © Ellsworth Kelly

Title: One word describing the mood
Line 1: 5 syllables describing the color
Line 2: 7 syllables describing the shape
Line 3: 5 syllables describing the lines

Here are some of our haiku’s.

Electric yellow
Those rectangles overlap
Tight and neat, so crisp
By: Margaret Collerd


It’s orange or red
Is it rectangle or square?
connected as one
By: Amy Truong


Ellsworth Kelly, Purple Curve in Relief, 2009 Private collection. Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy the artist. © Ellsworth Kelly

Red black blue green train
Squared rectangles even
Horizons kiltered
By: Anonymous


Strong purple and white
Oblong with a subtle curve
That should be a line
By: Marvin


Movement to the right
Rectangle on rectangle
Angles on angles
By: Karen


Interested in writing your own Kelly inspired haiku? Join us Thursday, Sept. 5 at Kelly’s Colors Phillips after 5 and create your own Post-It poetry to share or tweet your haiku as a tweetku and tag it #tweetku and #kellyscolors!

Margaret Collerd, Public Programs and In-Gallery Interpretation Coordinator