Women’s History Month: Zilia Sánchez and “La Noche Lunar”

To commemorate Women’s History Month, The Phillips Collection will be celebrating female and female identifying artists during the entire month of March. Zilia Sánchez: Soy Isla (I Am an Island)—the Cuban artist’s first museum retrospective—is on view at The Phillips Collection February 16-May 19, 2019.


Visitors with Zilia Sánchez's Lunar works in the Goh Annex Stairwell

Zilia Sánchez, Lunar (Moon), 1985. Acrylic on stretched canvas, 71 ½ × 73 ½ × 14 in. Collection of Ignacio J. López Beguiristain and Laura M. Guerra, San Juan; Lunar (Moon), c. 1980. Acrylic on stretched canvas with custom wooden base, 23 × 21 ¾ × 5 in. Collection of Mima and César Reyes, San Juan. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

The moon (or lunar) is a common theme in the work of Zilia Sánchez. Her Lunar paintings and sculptures bring an elusive, symbolic content to her work. As she recalls her memories of growing up in Havana, she explains, “I cried a lot when I was little and the only way for my mother to console me was to take me outside to see the moonlight.” This soft and calming light when day turns into night continues to give Sánchez a sense of comfort and well-being throughout the years.

The moon universally marks the passing of time and is often associated with feminine principles. With its soft glow, the full moon is a symbol of subtlety, reflection, and quietude. In Spanish, the word lunar has a double meaning, referring to either a mole/beauty mark or to the moon, thereby underlining the synergy of the body and nature, the personal and the cosmic, that is present in many of Sánchez’s works. “Lunares have sensuality and sexuality,” says Sánchez. “They are marks of beauty.” While some of the Lunar pieces emphasize the purity of circular forms in white, blue, and gray, others bear tattoo drawings that trace cryptic trajectories. Reflecting on her Lunar works, Sánchez frequently mentions the Caribbean moonlight—la noche lunar—that brings her tranquility.

Zilia Sánchez, Lunar con tatuaje (Moon with Tattoo), c. 1968/96, Acrylic on stretched canvas, 71 × 72 × 12 in., Collection of the artist, Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co., New York. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

The Phillips Collects: Simone Leigh

Simone Leigh, No Face (Crown Heights), 2018

Simone Leigh, No Face (Crown Heights), 2018, Terracotta, graphite ink, salt-fired porcelain, epoxy, 20 x 8 x 8 in., The Phillips Collection, Director’s Discretionary Fund, 2018

Simone Leigh (b. 1967, Chicago) creates exquisitely crafted ceramic sculptures informed by her ongoing exploration of black female subjectivity and ethnography. Through ceramics, Leigh references vernacular visual traditions from the Caribbean, the American South, and the African continent, as well as the black diasporic experience dating from the Middle Passage to the present. Vessels, cowrie shells, and busts are reoccurring forms, each making symbolic reference to the black body.

The faceless bust of No Face (Crown Heights) is encircled by a rosette featuring dozens of tiny, handcrafted ceramic roses. Leigh thinks of her sculptures as performative in the sense that she is “performing” the work of anonymous African potters (often women). The hollowness of the works is not meant to impart emptiness or anonymity, but rather the loss of authorship associated with African ceramics.

Leigh is the recipient of the prestigious 2018 Hugo Boss Prize.Her work is the collections of the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; the Perez Art Museum, Miami; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, among others.

“I am so pleased to embrace this subtle and thought-provoking work by Simone Leigh for The Phillips Collection. The personal, hand-made quality of this mysterious object engages us with surprising intensity. I’m particularly glad that we continue to add to the number of women artists represented in the collection.” —Vradenburg Director and CEO Dorothy Kosinski

Conserving Pierre Bourdelle’s “Bird” (Part II)

This two-part blog post is by Jen Munch, former intern in The Phillips Collection’s Conservation department and current Graduate Fellow in Art Conservation at SUNY Buffalo State. Read Part I here.

Later renovations and expansions required the sculpture’s deinstallation and relocation. During one deinstallation in 1987, the heavy stone sculpture was damaged at two locations along the slab’s bottom edge, where small sections of the stone were chipped away. In 1989, conservators repaired the sculpture by filling the two losses with chips of stone from the back of the artwork, plus an epoxy material that matched the colors of the grey and pink slab. Over time, the epoxy’s colors faded to beige, due to the strong sunlight that this artwork is exposed to. In 2004-5, the faded fills were replaced with new epoxy fills, with the goal of better matching the color of the surrounding stone. By the summer of 2017, the “new” fills again had faded to beige [fig.7, 8].

Figure 7, Before treatment, 2017. The discolored fills are circled.

Figure 7: Before treatment, 2017. The discolored fills are circled.

Figure 8: Before treatment, 2017. The discolored fills are circled.

The aging effects of sunlight are well known and documented. Just as the sun can damage your skin or the fabric of a sofa placed near a window, the sun’s rays can degrade many pigments. Ultraviolet rays are the most damaging, but visible light will also cause some degree of damage.

In 2017, the epoxy fills were still structurally stable but their beige color no longer matched the surrounding stone. The fills were visible and distracting. On one warm August day in 2017 [fig. 9], I spent the afternoon “in-painting” the beige epoxy to make it match the surrounding area. I applied small amounts of special conservation-grade paints atop the epoxy. The paints I used have good aging properties, but they, too, will eventually fade and need to be replaced. The work I did, and the materials I used, are documented with both written reports and photography, taken before and after treatment [fig. 10]. This information will be valuable to the next conservator who has to treat this artwork, just as the reports from the 1989 and 2004-5 treatments were helpful to me.

The author performing a conservation treatment on Bird by Pierre Bourdelle. Photo: Kim Sandara

Figure 9: The author performing a conservation treatment on Bird by Pierre Bourdelle. Photo: Kim Sandara

I enjoyed working on this sculpture and getting to learn about its history. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that this beautiful bird was custom-made for the Phillips and is a work of art, not just a logo. I hope you have enjoyed reading about this artwork, and will look for the bird the next time you visit The Phillips Collection.

Figure 9, After treatment, 2017. The epoxy fills have been in-painted to match the stone.

Figure 10: After treatment, 2017. The epoxy fills have been in-painted to match the stone.