Staff Show 2017: Alanna Reeves

In this series, Manager of Visitor and Family Engagement Emily Bray highlights participants in the 2017 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through September 17, 2017.

Alanna Reeves, “Picking”

Alanna Reeves. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

What do you do at The Phillips Collection? Are there any unique or interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?

I work as a Museum Assistant within The Phillips Collection. My favorite job perk is access to the museum’s library. I love to do research via books and it’s an amazing collection of artist biographies and material study.

Who is your favorite artist in the collection?

I’m really enamored with Milton Avery. His works are very quiet and playful. After being part of the Phillips community for only a few months, I could see that his loose application of paint was beginning to influence aspects of my work. I see it contrast heavily with influences of Jacob Lawrence as well.

What is your favorite space within The Phillips Collection?

I love the rooms in the original Phillips house. Particularly, I am interested in the way contemporary artists have used the rooms for Intersection exhibitions. There are a lot of nooks and crannies to experiment with and I have found the rooms to be completely transformed into new environments when these artists pair their own work with that of works from the collection. I also appreciate that the Phillips has maintained these older spaces with their original architecture and can’t wait for them to reopen following the building enhancement.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2017 Staff Show (or your work in general)?

This piece is one that I created after a trip to Jamaica, the birthplace of my paternal grandmother. I hadn’t been there in over a decade and it was an important return trip for me as I’ve recently been exploring ways in which hyphen-Americans regard and idealize their homelands. For me, Jamaica and my relation to it is an essential part of my identity and yet I am displaced from it, physically and otherwise. I try to reflect on ways my American identity affects my experience in Jamaica and how I can be a responsible visitor in a country that has a complex relationship in terms of its tourist economy. My piece Picking is an example of an idealistic environment and the instantaneous actions that occur within that space.

About the artist

Alanna Reeves was born in Washington, D.C., 1993. She is a recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design where she earned a BFA in Illustration and concentration in History of Art and Visual Culture. During her time there she participated in the institution’s European Honors Program. This semester-long program offers students who feel they have exhausted the pre-established curriculum the opportunity to conduct independent studio projects, all while in the heart of Rome, Italy. This study resulted in an intense focus on language, cultural perception, and origin. Having returned to her hometown, Reeves now engages with the District’s artist community via education and art administration with a particular interest in the non-profit sector. She currently serves as founder and editor of HUE: Culture, Color, Theory zine which has been accepted into university special collections.

The 2017 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view August 3 through September 17, 2017.

Truth by Train/Ambiguity by Air

(left) Jacob Lawrence, “The Migration Series, Panel no. 3: From every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north.”, 1940-41. Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. © 2010 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (right) Allan deSouza, “Specter” from “The World Series, 2010-11.” Courtesy of the artist and Talwar Gallery, New York / New Delhi.

A recent review by Philip Kennicott of photographer Allan deSouza’s installation, The World Series, which responds to Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series, prompted me to take a second look at the artwork and jot down my thoughts.

Kennicott writes of deSouza’s work’s “. . . (perhaps unconscious) appeal to the class of people who travel, who are rich and privileged enough to enjoy the sweet dislocation of life in multiple time zones.”  Indeed, about half of the photographs in deSouza’s installation are of airborne postmodern travel, with the gray concrete and glass ubiquity of airports or shot from an airplane window, with no clear indication whether the image was shot in Jakarta, Prague, Paris, or Milwaukee.

It is in this visual continuity of deSouza’s images of air travel–with their dominant color and style of photographic gray–that I find an interesting parallel with Lawrence’s The Migration Series. The visual equivalent to deSouza’s grey is Lawrence’s use of brown, frequently painted with a dry brush, which the artist used to suggest the wooden floor of southern shotgun shacks, parched fields ravaged by drought or boll weevils, or the interior of railroad cars and train stations. Lawrence’s browns are a base color that evokes the depleted South that African Americans departed in droves.

DeSouza’s photographs and their glossy grays with metallic highlights and reflective surfaces express the 21st century world through which one travels (migrates). And while for many museum-goers and art critics, deSouza’s photographs may suggest the “sweet dislocation of modern life,” for today’s migrants they might suggest the alien world in which one travels to escape oppression and seek opportunity. Continue reading