On the first Thursday of every month the Phillips Collection hosts Phillips after 5, an after hours event centered around a specific theme, usually having to do with the current exhibition. July’s Pa5 landed on the 3rd and coincided with the museum’s new collection-based exhibition Made in the USA, a thoroughly patriotic event all around.
Made in the USA highlights the museum’s extensive collection of modern American Art, and is fully representative of modernism in the US throughout the 20th century. As someone who has worked extensively within this genre/period it warms my heart to see some of my favorite, yet often overlooked, artists given pride of place in the gallery. Too often American modernism is dominated by its exceptional abstract artists – and O’Keeffe, Pollock, Rothko, Calder, etc., are all well represented here – but what’s fantastic about the Phillips’ American collection is the depth of “American modernism” it contains. The opening piece to the exhibition is Walt Kuhn’s 1931 painting “Plumes”, a work I think is aptly suited to demonstrate America’s fascination with and wariness of its new modernity, a thread I’ve tried to explore in my own work and one I think gets lost in the traditional narrative of masculine bravado that is Abstract Expressionism. While the early 20th century art scene was dominated by varying forms of abstraction, Realism was still very much a thing and has unfortunately gotten a bad rap as ugly, sad, art. I blame you Greenberg!
Duncan Phillips set out to build a collection which would “reveal the richness of the art created in our United States, to stimulate our native artists and afford them inspiration.”–Duncan Phillips, 1921. The end result is an eclectic mix of styles, subjects, and techniques as varied as the American population itself. While Made in the USA is just a collections exhibition, it’s the type of exhibition we need to see more of.
Also did I mention the party? Pa5 is a great event, one definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area. The highlight (other than the fun of booze and snacks in the gallery) is the sheer number of spotlight tours, lectures, and other special programs that run during the night. At no other time can you be so fully engrossed in an exhibition whilst a Chicago blues band reverberates through the galleries. Also there’s booze…