In Valerie Hellstein’s spotlight talk yesterday, about her installation of abstract expressionist works, she moved us past familiar thoughts about the actions of the artist (think Jackson Pollock dancing over his canvases) toward a focus on the actions of the viewer. Action painting requires action on the part of the viewer to really experience the work, she explained. We attend to the colors. We think about the depth of the paint and the forms on the canvas. Active looking is required to do more than just pass by the work with a glancing notice. And through our active looking, we become aware of our moment and our place in that moment, standing before the painting.
One of the things that excited me about coming to the Phillips for the year was the opportunity to be in a museum setting again, to have art objects near by and all around. Knowing that my fellowship was a research and teaching opportunity, however, I did not expect to get first-hand experience working with the collection. I tentatively suggested the possibility of installing a few abstract expressionist works in a gallery, and the curators and staff were more than enthusiastic and supportive. Fortuitously, the small hang coincides with the newly opened exhibition Angels, Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet and shows how other artists in Pollock’s and Ossorio’s circle explored process and materiality as well as engaged themes of nature, landscape, and even spirituality.
What I found challenging and exciting about this small project is that many of the works I had hoped to choose were unavailable, but my disappointment was quickly mitigated by how well the group of paintings selected in the end works together. Seeing the affinities between Tomlin and Ippolito, Kline and Stamos, Siskind and de Kooning, is very exciting. Duncan Phillips felt that paintings could talk to each other and different pairings could teach us something new and unexpected. While it makes sense from a historical and social perspective to have these paintings in the same room, seeing the various combinations and affinities has made me look at the works in a new light. My scholarship tends toward intellectual and cultural history, and it is refreshing and important to be brought back to the physical works of art as I dive into writing my book manuscript.
Valerie Hellstein, Postdoctoral Fellow
As soon as I met our spring Postdoctoral Fellow , Riccardo Venturi, I knew I would enjoy having him in our midst. He has such a wonderful sense of humor, both about himself and the world. One of my (many) favorite things about him is the set of adorably hilarious idiosyncrasies he exhibits on a daily basis. During presentations and class lectures Riccardo must place his materials – his pencil, moleskine notebook, wristwatch, and sometimes his glasses – perfectly parallel to each other and to his laptop from which he is working. If they’re not positioned “just so” he has to stop and fix the arrangement. Then there’s the glass vase he used as a water glass everyday (he admitted he knew it was a vase, but claimed it worked much better as a water glass). There he was, every day: materials perfectly placed, drinking water from a flower vase.
I recently sat down with Riccardo to learn more about how he came to the field of art history, how the fellowship helped further his research, and his experience teaching an art history course at the Center. Continue reading “Until we meet again, Riccardo” »