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

One Collection to Another: Exploring The Kreeger Museum

Compilation of images from paintings and sculpture from the Kreeger Museum's collection

Sculptures, paintings, architecture, and members of the Phillips’s communications staff at The Kreeger Museum. Photos: Amy Wike

To take advantage of the dwindling sunny days and for a little inspiration, the Phillips communications and marketing department recently took a field trip to the nearby Kreeger Museum. It was a treat to see some of the stars from our own collection—Braque, BonnardMonet, and Picasso, to name a few—in a new light, and I could spend days in the Dan Steinhilber: Marlin Underground exhibition (on view through Dec. 29, 2012). The image at lower left in the collage above is just a corner of the gargantuan inflatable sculpture Steinhilber has created for visitors to run around in.

Of particular note was this incredible watercolor by Piet Mondrian. After a lifetime of associating the name “Mondrian” with flat, grid paintings in primary colors, I had to do a triple-take of the artist name.

Located on Foxhall Road, the Kreeger is just down the street from the house Duncan and Marjorie Phillips built in 1929, affectionately named “Dunmarlin” after Duncan (father), Marjorie (mother), and Laughlin (son). The building no longer stands, but it housed the family after their residence at 21st and Q Streets was fully converted to a museum.

Amy Wike, Publicity and Marketing Coordinator

Take a Longer Look at Painting No. 9

As a gallery educator at The Phillips Collection, I have the pleasure of facilitating tours and conversing with visitors about inspiring artworks in the collection. One of my favorite paintings to discuss is Painting No, 9 (1939-42) by Piet Mondrian. As a non-objective painting composed of primary colors and geometric shapes it is easy to walk past and think “Got it.” However, if you slow down and think about what Mondrian is doing in his art, the painting can take on an entirely new and exciting perspective. While visitors may not become Mondrian converts after our tour conversation, I frequently hear “You know, Mondrian may not be my favorite, but I have a much greater appreciation for what he set out to accomplish.”

Much like a visitor to the museum, I encourage you to slow down, click here and spend a few minutes learning to appreciate the simplicity and idealism of Mondrian.

While looking at the painting, ask yourself:  What do I see? (Literally, what shapes, lines, colors?) Imagine removing or adding an additional line or square of color; how does the artwork change? Look at the relationship between the black lines and the blocks of color; does the black line appear to be consistently above or on top of the color blocks? How does the interplay between the black lines and blocks of color suggest depth? Continue reading “Take a Longer Look at Painting No. 9” »