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


The International Art and Language Soiree hosted at the Phillips on Thursday, August 16 in collaboration with the International Club of DC provided an incredible atmosphere of cultural infusion. The Tryst at the Phillips café was the perfect meeting place for all who attended, including experienced foreign language speakers and beginners looking to try something new. The native speakers and conversation facilitators led ongoing discussions about their cultures and the variety of works featured at the Phillips produced by artists of their respective cultural backgrounds. For example, the Russian patrons discussed Chagall and Rothko, the Spanish patrons discussed Picasso and Goya, and the French patrons discussed Renoir and Cézanne.

The mood was light and fun, comfortable and relaxed, making it easy to approach any language table and give it a try. Much to my surprise, that is exactly what many of the attendees did. I watched in awe as individuals floated between the Russian table and the German table, the Spanish table and the Italian table. There was minimal emphasis on proficiency in a single language and more emphasis on a friendly interaction with something new. I felt my confidence building as I observed the excitement of all the attendees in this culturally charged environment. Maybe this week I’ll attempt to recall some Spanish from my high school days, or just sit in on the French discussion to assess how much of it I can understand with my minimal background in the romance languages. Either way, the art and language soiree at The Phillips Collection provides an irresistibly welcoming vibe that encourages everyone to join the fun.

To get a feel for how these language and art soirees unfold, check out this video, courtesy of the International Club of DC, which was recorded the night I attended.

Laura McNeil, Graduate Intern for Programs and Lectures

“Seeing Red,” Mark Rothko Inspired Works Displayed at “Red”

Briefly augmenting the Tony Award-winning play, Red, by John Logan, at Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, were a dozen works inspired by the grand, colorful paintings of Mark Rothko, who is the focus of the play.

Two Museum Assistants at The Phillips Collection were among the artists in the “Seeing Red” display, organized by Joseph Orzal and Josef Palermo of the Washington art collective, Vestibule. The works were on view February 3-5, 2011.

Experiment Station talked with Museum Assistants Janelle Ortiz and Rodrigo Carazas Portal about their works in the display.

Rodrigo Carazas (left) and Janelle Ortiz (right) stand by their works installed at Arena Stage in February 2011. Photos: Rodrigo Carazas Portal

You’re familiar with paintings in the Rothko Room at the Phillips, and I heard you went to the Phillips library to look through the books on Rothko. Is the Phillips your first exposure to Rothko?

Janelle: The Phillips Collection is not my first exposure to Rothko. I actually cannot even pinpoint in my memory when I first learned about Rothko or first saw a painting of his. However, the Rothko Room was my first EXPERIENCE with a Rothko. Previously, I passively viewed them at art museums; this was before I viewed the Rothko Room or did any research on the artist and his work. The way the Rothko Room presented his paintings requires real consideration from the viewer, a consideration I had never given before to a work by Rothko.

Rodrigo: Mark Rothko is a continuous inspiration for me. Working at The Phillips Collection gave me a much closer approach to his work, and the library [provided] a deeper insight on his life and ideas.

Is Rothko the inspiration for the work? Continue reading ““Seeing Red,” Mark Rothko Inspired Works Displayed at “Red”” »