A Gallery of Color

The Phillips is home to radiant works by the Washington Color School. Don’t miss the gallery featuring brilliant paintings by Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, and Thomas Downing, artist who frequented the museum and were inspired by the American Modernist and French Impressionist works in the galleries. Leo Villareal’s pulsating Scramble offers a contemporary twist to the Color Field canvases.

Washington Color School gallery

Left to right: Grid 31 (1970) by Thomas Downing, April (1960) by Kenneth Noland, Seal (1959) by Morris Louis, Cycle (1960) by Kenneth Noland, Number 182 (1961) by Morris Louis, and Scramble (2011) by Leo Villareal

An Impossible Equation

Equation_installation shot ptg and drawing

Man Ray’s Equation (1947, oil on canvas, 16 × 20 1/8 in, private collection) alongside the drawing that preceded it.

Man Ray painted Equation (at left above) in Hollywood based on his 1939 drawing (at right). While the composition reveals recognizable elements from different mathematical models that appear in other Shakespearean Equation paintings, this canvas contains no suggestion of human entities or references to Shakespeare. It is also the only painting in the series that does not replicate any model in its entirety. Nonetheless, Equation notably foreshadows the Shakespearean Equations project, and Man Ray subsequently incorporated the canvas into the series.

Art and Emotion

Mondrian_No 9

Piet Mondrian, Composition No. III, c. 1921/repainted 1925. Oil on canvas, 19 3/8 x 19 3/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1946

When I first saw a Mondrian painting, I got angry. Hands-curled-up-into-fists, eyes-bulging, frowny-faced angry. “What even is this!?,” I mentally shouted to nobody in particular. “Give me some graph paper and I could do it.” (Full disclaimer: I am a terrible artist. Even if I did have graph paper, I could not come close to emulating the precision of one of Mondrian’s works.) I wandered—stomped—away from the painting, seeking some other work of art that could cool me down.

This reaction was probably about ten years ago. I don’t remember where I was, or the precise details of the painting itself, but I do remember my bodily reaction to it. I’ve created a memory of myself as reactor more than passive observer, and that is the memory which has stuck with me through the years. A painting by Mondrian is currently on display at the Phillips, and when I walk by it, the memory of my initial and totally irrational rage floods in—despite the fact that intellectually, I understand the artistry of the painting in front of me.

Why did a piece of canvas on a wall inspire such an emotional and physical reaction? What is it about certain works of art that makes us actively respond rather than merely see? This is one of the questions on hand in art theorist Fré Ilgen’s latest book, ARTIST? The Hypothesis of Bodiness, which investigates “the involvement of the (mind/)body in everything we do, think or experience.” Ilgen will discuss his book in a panel moderated by Phillips Director Dorothy Kosinski on October 15 at American University.

Have you ever experienced a reaction like this to a work of art, positive or negative? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Emily Hurwitz, Marketing and Communications Intern