Discovering Ralph Flint, Part I

Ralph Flint, Metropolis, undated. Colored pencil on paper, 12 3/4 x 16 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1931.

Currently hung in a small group of New York-themed work on the second floor of the original House, Ralph Flint’s undated drawing Metropolis is nothing if not quietly eye-catching. The pencil marks that make up the abstracted cityscape are brusque and smudgy, lending the elevated view a feeling of out-of-reach frenzy. White highlights add depth to the relatively sparse work on paper, and the whole effect of Flint’s hand is understated and enchanting. As spellbound as I found myself when first viewing it, these visual qualities were not what prompted me to learn more about the piece. Rather, it was the unusual notation on wall text beside the drawing: “death date unknown.” Imprecise birth and death dates are probably not uncommon in exhibitions of ancient art; but as this is a modern piece, I was surprised and highly intrigued by the apparent gap in knowledge about Flint. Furthermore, word among staff was that Metropolis had never previously been on view at the Phillips. Installations Manager Bill Koberg wasn’t able to resolutely confirm this but did tell me that the work was unframed when he decided to put it up. As a fan of puzzles and mystery, I was immediately intent on finding out more. Continue reading “Discovering Ralph Flint, Part I” »

Kandinsky’s World of Influence

(Left) Tomoko and Elizabeth catalog the book. (Center) A full-color plate. (Right) The book binding and slipcase.

Volunteer Tomoko Kanekiyo assists library intern Elizabeth Cawrse-Matthews in cataloguing a rare copy of Wassily Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art, translated and published in Japanese in 1924. The powerful treatise on abstraction was first published in 1911. Soon translated and sold around the world, Kandinsky’s thoughts on color and form were vastly influential. The Phillips library also recently acquired an edition in Spanish, published in Argentina in 1956. Both editions will be on display as part of Kandinsky and the Harmony of Silence: Painting with White Border, June 11–September 4, 2011.