Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens The Phillips Collection
Washington, D.C.

The Phillips Collection
1600 21st Street NW
Washington DC

America's First Museum of Modern Art



Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition



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Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition
February 29 - May 24, 2020

Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition presents works by African American artists of the 20th and 21st centuries together with examples by the early 20th century European artists with whom they engaged. This exhibition explores the connections and frictions around modernism in the work of artists such as Romare Bearden, Robert Colescott, Renee Cox, Wassily Kandinsky, Norman Lewis, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Faith Ringgold, Hank Willis Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems, among others. European modernist art has been an important, yet complicated influence on black artists for more than a century. The powerful push and pull of this relationship constitutes a distinct tradition for many African American artists who have mined the narratives of art history, whether to find inspiration, mount a critique, or claim their own space. Riffs and Relations examines these cross-cultural conversations and presents the divergent works that reflect these complex dialogues.

The exhibition is organized by The Phillips Collection with guest curator Dr. Adrienne L. Childs.

With lead support provided by The Frauke and Willem de Looper Charitable Fund, Altria Group, and The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts.

Brought to you by the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities, The Robert Lehman Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Eric Richter and Charles Shoener, Amanda and Earl W. Stafford, and George Vradenburg and the Vradenburg Foundation.

Through September 5, 2021

Included with general admission / Free for members
Photograph of a chair made of brass rods hanging in the Phillips's Goh Annex

Inspired by the dramatic architecture of the Phillips’s Goh Annex stairway, Marley Dawson has created two kinetic sculptures that accentuate its spiral configuration. The first group is comprised of brass chairs—five suspended from the Annex dome at different heights and floating at different axis points, and two seated on the landings and set in motion via mechanized shafts. Dawson creates a dialogue with both the stairway and the Phillips’s chairs (inspired by the Arts and Crafts style from the turn of the 20th century): the shape and size of Dawson’s chairs mirror the Phillips chairs, and the brass he uses is the same brass used for the stairway railing. Whereas the museum chairs are heavy and sturdy, Dawson’s are weightless and almost translucent, playing off the opposites of functional and imaginary.

Dawson’s other piece is a wall-mounted sculpture consisting of hundred of brass rods arranged>on a brass track to allow movement. It speaks to Morris Louis’s painting Number 182,scaled to Dawson’s height. A small motor within the work oscillates the rods, giving them a sway and hum that echo the shimmering radiance of Louis’s painting. Much like with his hanging chairs, here, too, Dawson plays with opposites, shifting the liquidy stripes of Louis’s painting into a solid sculptural mass. Entitled ghosts, the project as a whole brings the history of the museum into the present. Like ghosts that are intangible, amorphous, and haunting, Dawson’s work is allusive, suggestive, and open-ended.

The Embassy of Australia and HEMPHILL Artworks in Washington, DC, are featuring concurrent presentations of the artist’s most recent body of work.

Marley Dawson (b. 1982, Wellington, NSW; lives and works in Australia) uses physics, chemistry, and engineering to construct experimental sculptures and installations that highlight the uncanny or surreal aspects of our everyday life. He often turns gallery space into a hall of wonder populated with sculptural works that look like familiar utilitarian objects—such as furniture, motor vehicles parts, baseball bats, or miniature rockets—but are instead imaginary art constructs. Dawson received a Bachelor and Master of Visual Arts from Sydney College of the Arts, Australia. His work has been exhibited in Australia at Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), Hobart; Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne; Artspace, Sydney; and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney; and in Washington, DC, at the Embassy of Australia and Hillyer Art Space.

Intersections is a series of contemporary art projects that explores—as the title suggests—the intriguing intersections between old and new traditions, modern and contemporary art practices, and museum spaces and artistic interventions. Whether engaging with the permanent collection or diverse spaces in the museum, the projects suggest new relationships with their own surprises. Many of the projects also riff on the nontraditional nature of the museum’s galleries, sometimes activating spaces that are not typical exhibition areas with art produced specifically for those locations.

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