In February, the Conversation Continues

The Center for the Study of Modern Art’s series Conversations with Artists is halfway through its sixth season. An integral part of the Center’s programming, the series has been engaging the D.C.-area community with leading and emerging contemporary visual artists since 2006.

Janine Antoni, “Inhabit,” Digital C-print, 2009, 116 1/2 x 72 in. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Each season has a theme that ties the conversations together. This season’s theme, “Art as Experience,” emphasizes the importance of experience over interpretation, drawing much from the philosophy of museum founder Duncan Phillips as well as theorist John Dewey whose writings on what constitutes an experience in art inspired the theme. While the experience of an artwork may be validated with the expiration of its material (material that may very well be integral to the piece) we must transcend this materiality to experience the purity of the artist’s intent.

It goes without saying that it is more difficult to have an experience with some artists’ work than others. Sometimes we just don’t get it. Even after a wonderfully in-depth conversation with an artist we still may not understand his or her intent. I can’t tell you how many times I have left a conversation more confused than when it began–but I consider these inconclusive discussions a success on the artist’s part. He or she has set me on a search for understanding.

You may not need to view the artist’s work in real time (as opposed to slides) in order to have an experience, to understand the intent.  These artists are so well versed in explaining and relating their work that you can form a fond appreciation from merely a 2D experience. Then there are artists for whom the conversation is a performance, in which case the conversation is the experience, and you cannot help but be enveloped in the intent (or perhaps realize the trickery after-the-fact).

This fall we heard from two artists, Wolfgang Laib and Jill Downen, both of whose works are densely material and implicitly spiritual, as well as from the London-based artist collective, The Otolith Group – whose conversation/performance challenged notions of how we interpret images in contemporary society.

The conversations continue in February when we welcome Anthony McCall, whose work focuses on the relationship of the human body with space, creating a heightened sense of self awareness. In the video below, McCall discusses his light sculpture Between You and I, which was part of Creative Time’s first quadrennial PLOT/09: This World & Nearer Ones.

Performance artists Janine Antoni and William Pope.L round out the 2011-12 season in March and April. Antoni describes her work and relationship with material in Art21’s segment on “Loss and Desire.”

If you are in D.C., you can check out William Pope.L’s “crawl” piece The Great American Way on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art as part of 30 Americans, on view through February 12, 2012.

Megan Clark, Manager of Center Initiatives

Conversations with Artists programs require advance registration as space is limited. Visit the museum calendar for more information and to make a reservation.

Fall for Degas

A stunning loan to the Phillips's upcoming Degas's Dancers exhibition. Edgar Degas, The Dance Class, c. 1873. Oil on canvas, 18 3/4 x 24 1/2 in. Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., William A. Clark Collection.

A new season for the “painter of dancers” is beginning. Tomorrow, London’s Royal Academy of Arts opens Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement, positioning Degas’s images of dancers in the context of photography and early film. The exhibition is on view through December 11, 2011. Early reviews indicate that, while Degas is already well known and well loved, his work continues to offer much to discover. In the Financial Times, Jackie Wullschlager writes that the Royal Academy exhibition, “triumphantly proves how much we can still glean from a deep, precisely focused exploration of the most familiar masters.”

On October 1, our own exhibition opens, exploring Degas’s process in representing ballerinas from the 1870s to 1900. His devotion and commitment to the subject and his deep understanding of the hard work underlying the dancer’s art led him to repeat and revise his depictions of dancers obsessively. Degas’s Dancers at the Barre: Point and Counterpoint takes lessons learned from the conservation of a Phillips treasure as its starting point.

You can also discover another perspective on the artist in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston’s Degas and the Nude, which includes The Phillips Collection’s After the Bath (c. 1895), below. Across the Atlantic, Rembrandt & Degas, which opened this summer at Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, remains on view through October 23.

If you’re not sure you can make it to these exhibitions (or they leave you wanting more), visit Degas’s work in permanent collections around the world. Here in the DC region, opportunities abound at the Baltimore Museum of ArtCorcoran Gallery of Art, Dumbarton Oaks, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Kreeger Museum, National Gallery of Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, The Walters Art Museum, and (of course) here at the Phillips.

Edgar Degas, After the Bath, circa 1895. Pastel on paper, 30 1/2 x 33 1/8 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1949.