Pour, Tear, Carve: The Possibilities of Wood

Explore how artists in Pour, Tear, Carve: Material Possibilities in the Collection (on view through May 14) use various materials in different ways in their art, and how their choices convey meaning to their work.

Take a look at the works below that incorporate wood and consider:

  • • What connects these objects together? What connects them to you? What connects them to today?
  • • What role does the wood play in evoking a sense of place?

Alfonso Ossorio, Excelsior, 1960, Congregation of glass, bone, wood, shell, and epoxy on panel with velvet-lined frame, 56 x 12 in., The Phillips Collection, The Dreier Fund for Acquisitions, 2008

Alfonso Ossorio, Excelsior, 1960

“The human being is the link between God and the material world. [O]ne of the things I try to do is to infuse into the inanimate a reference back to the whole hierarchy of human experience beginning with the material, using objects instead of just paint.”—Alfonso Ossorio

Seashells, bones, prosthetic glass eyes, marbles, rope, and two halftone reproductions of a young saint or martyr are only a few of the objects that appear in Excelsior. This work is part of the artist’s Congregation series, a term he used to describe how [his materials] “all work together and . . . are unified to a final end, working for one final effect.” Excelsior, both in its title and material, speaks to Ossorio’s memories of his devoutly Catholic upbringing in the Philippines, reignited after a trip back to the country a decade earlier.

William Christenberry, Southern Monument XI, 1983, Wood, sheet metal, metal signs, roofing materials, nails, red soil, and paint, 19 x 28 1/2 x 19 in, The Phillips Collection, Gift of Philip M. Smith, 2004

William Christenberry, Southern Monument XI, 1983

“I feel like I can reach out and touch memory. Somehow it is malleable, you can manipulate it, form it, shape it. It certainly can shape you.”—William Christenberry

Through photography, sculpture, and drawing, William Christenberry explored Southern architecture and its relationship to memory and time. In Southern Monument XI, he places a white punctured sphere atop a house-like steel structure resting on soil that he collected from his hometown in Hale County, Alabama. Unlike the Civil War monuments that memorialize the lives of men who fought to preserve slavery, Christenberry’s abstract structures are forged using found materials to evoke the feeling of a monument. “My pieces have a very narrative or literal quality to them—I won’t deny that. They usually have come from real, existing landscape, but I also make buildings that deal with my childhood memories.”

Betty Parsons, Long Meg, 1979, Painted wood, 39 x 30 1/4 in., The Phillips Collection, Gift of Marjorie Phillips, 1980

Betty Parsons, Long Meg, 1979

“Basically, the creative thing comes out of an idea and out of feeling . . . . Anybody could learn techniques but not everyone has the idea. And, well, you might as well take advantage of the progress made in materials today.”—Betty Parsons

From her Long Island beachfront home in the 1970s, renowned modern art dealer Betty Parsons began making brightly painted constructions from distressed wood. She said of her materials: “They were pieces of houses or docks or boats or signs. . . . And something happened and they were lost. They were tossed about in the sea for I don’t know how long. And then they wash ashore, broken and changed, and I find them.” Often reflecting on concepts related to natural phenomena, history, and myth, this piece alludes to one of the oldest stone circles in England, dating from between the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age. Some believe it to be a burial ground while others suggest it was a gathering place for trade, rituals, or social exchanges.

Pour, Tear, Carve: The Possibilities of Plastic

Explore how artists in Pour, Tear, Carve: Material Possibilities in the Collection (on view through May 14) use various materials in different ways in their art, and how their choices convey meaning to their work.

Take a look at the works below that incorporate plastic and consider:

  • • What materials are familiar? Which are surprising?
  • • How does the artist’s choice of materials influence how you view the artwork?
  • • How do the materials affect your interpretation of the artwork?

A. Balasubramaniam, Hold Nothing, 2012, Fiberglass, resin, and acrylic paint, 42 x 24 x 7 in., The Phillips Collection, The Dreier Fund for Acquisitions, 2014

A. Balasubramaniam, Hold Nothing, 2012

Hold Nothing is from Balasubramaniam’s four-part series entitled Kayaam (“invisible body” in the South Indian language Tamil). In this series, the artist created rubber casts of his own body, which he contorted and then recast in fiberglass. The results test what defines and confines human forms.

Jeanne Silverthorne, Dandelion Clock, 2012, Platinum silicone rubber, phosphorescent paint, and wire, 33 x 29 x 16 in., The Phillips Collection, The Hereward Lester Cooke Memorial Fund, 2014

Jeanne Silverthorne, Dandelion Clock, 2012

With forms cast in wobbly, silicone rubber, Silverthorne’s sculptures capture feelings of instability. After a clay model is made, Silverthorne creates a mold, pours in platinum silicone rubber, and then demolds her object. The phosphorescent pigments added to the rubber allow the work to glow in the dark, creating a haunting effect. Silverthorne’s overgrown creation invades.

Dandelion Clock is a reminder of transience and mortality. It is infected by signs of morbid excess [its giant size], decay [the faded or ‘blown’ flower], and toxicity [its ability to glow in the dark].”—Jeanne Silverthorne

Dan Steinhilber, Untitled (Mustard Packets), 2003, Plastic mustard condiment bags mounted onto an acrylic panel, 24 1/2 x 48 in., Gift of the Robert S. Wennett and Mario Cader-French Foundation, 2021

Dan Steinhilber, Untitled (Mustard Packets), 2003

Collecting and counting and sequence and repetition provide the idea and the embodiment of time.”—Dan Steinhilber

Steinhilber repurposes mass-produced consumer items manufactured to hold commodities that have been used or discarded. Here, he examines how time interacts with the physical and aesthetic properties of aged mustard packets collected from Mayflower Chinese Carryout in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. Acknowledging how his work has changed, Steinhilber explained: “This painting took 20 years to dry. This slow drying is part of the process.” His investigations suggest the possibilities held in mundane objects that often elicit memories.

The Intersection of Art and Music: An Immersive Experience in Linling Lu’s Soundwaves

Marketing and Communications Detail Amity Chan shares her experience in Linling Lu‘s Soundwaves, on view through April 30.

Linling Lu’s Soundwaves, the first Intersections project of 2023, is a response to Philip Glass’s Etude no. 16 played on piano by Timo Andres during a Phillips Music program in 2015. Trained as a pianist from a young age, Lu uses her knowledge of classical piano and music theory to explore the intersection of art and music in this exhibition. Soundwaves features Lu’s collection of 12 circular paintings, each representing a note played by Andres on the piano. Linking art and music together, Lu offers the ultimate meditative experience.

Upon entering the gallery, visitors are greeted by a life-sized circular painting that transports them to the world of music. Looking to the left, six additional life-sized circular paintings are displayed on the wall as parts of the seven notes played by the pianist’s left hand. While on the right wall, five paintings of varied sizes are installed as a hand shape to represent the five notes played by the right hand. Despite the absence of a piano, the entire gallery space feels like a massive piano. As viewers, we are standing inside the piano enveloped by Andres’s performance.

As Lu mentioned in an interview, “If you read a book a hundred times, you can read something behind the texts. I think for painting, it has the same process.” In Soundwaves, Lu’s paintings mirror the repetitive phrases in Glass’s Etude no. 16 with the use of recurring circular patterns. The gradient circles on the twelve canvases resemble the pressure from the fingertips, slowly wrapping the viewers in the musician’s hands as they tap on piano keys. This leads to a thought-provoking question: who is the real musician here? Is it Lu, Timo Andres, or Phillips Glass?

Lu’s art practice centers around the concept of repetition, and this exhibition is no exception. The experience of Soundwaves is designed to be savored over time. Don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind immersive exhibition, and be sure to bring your earphones so you can listen to Glass’s music while you savor!