Mining the Archives

Pavlovic_Phillips Flashback

(Left) Vesna Pavlović, Untitled (Swiss Peasant art exhibition, 1957.4), (2014). Courtesy of the artist and G Fine Art (Right) Vesna Pavlović, Installation view of Untitled (Annex, Giacometti exhibition, 1963), 2014. Photo: Mica Scalin

Intersections artist Vesna Pavlović, whose installation Illuminated Archive opened at the Phillips last week, mined the museum’s archival materials to create new works exploring the idea of transparency. The works above feature photographic negatives from exhibitions throughout Phillips history, altered in a variety of ways and to varying degrees.

What I love most about the work at right, a 35-foot curtain made up of digitally manipulated negatives from a 1963 Alberto Giacometti exhibition, is how necessary uncontrollable elements—weather, sunlight, time—are to the viewer experience. Pass by this work at high noon on a sunny day, and the curtain is nearly clear. Chance upon it at dawn or dusk, however, and the details of light and shadow are revealed. It feels like a secret, intimate moment shared between viewer and artwork; a playful approach to the idea of transparency and our perception of it.

Amy Wike, Marketing Manager

Happy First Snow, DC

Minor White_Dock in Snow

Minor White, Dock in Snow, 1971. Gelatin silver print, 10 3/4 x 13 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Gift of the Phillips Contemporaries, 2006

Happy first snow of the year to all of our DC, Maryland, and Virginia neighbors! It may have been short-lived, but it reinforced the holiday cheer that’s been building.

Breaking through the Facade: What the Hands Reveal in Lydia Panas’s “Figs”

Happy Friday! We’ve enjoyed delving deeper into some of the beautiful images on display in Shaping a Modern Identity: Portraits from the Joseph and Charlotte Lichtenberg Collection during our 5-day celebration of  FotoWeekDC. The last photograph we’re featuring is Lydia Panas‘s Figs, which also happens to be the most recent photograph on display in the installation.

Lydia Panas, Figs, 2010. Chromogenic print. Joseph and Charlotte Lichtenberg Collection. © Lydia Panas

Lydia Panas, Figs, 2010. Chromogenic print. Joseph and Charlotte Lichtenberg Collection. © Lydia Panas

For Panas – a contemporary portrait photographer working in southeastern Pennsylvania – figs provide both a title for her 2010 work as well as a unique means for exploring the internal through portraiture. In her series Falling From Grace… from which this work comes, the subjects are placed in front of a black background and provided with various foods which they are instructed to hold in their hands. Panas believes that people’s extremities often reveal what a face may conceal. Her work is drawn from the idea that the things we try to hide still reveal themselves somehow. This seems most evident in the Falling from Grace… series, where the expressions are particularly unclear but the hands and positioning of food objects seem to give the viewer cues as to the sitter’s emotional state.

In Figs, the young woman sits with her hands holding several figs close to her chest. Her light skin and hair provide a stark contrast with the black background. Panas cites Old Dutch portraiture and early religious works, where the faces are set against a dark black background, as an important influence. The black background allows the viewer to zoom in directly on the sitter, her pose, and her expression. The woman’s expression is searching, slightly tentative, and her hands carefully cradle the figs and almost completely obscure them from the viewer’s sight, as if she is protecting them. There is an underlying intimacy between the subject and photographer in this and all the other photographs in the series, as if Panas has been able to extract each sitter’s vulnerability, breaking through the unreliability of facial expressions and using their subconscious movements and poses with the food objects to reveal their true emotions and thoughts.