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Collecting modern art: The Phillips Collection of Washington lands in Rome

Shown until 14th February, "Impressionist and Modern. Masterworks from The Phillips Collection" is not the classical art-history-teaching exhibition, nor the chronological table of artistic techniques, but a visual set of personal sensations and thoughts

2 minutes

 

This year, Rome is experiencing a period of fertile artistic excitement. One of the several art events is what is now on display at Palazzo delle Esposizioni.

 

Shown until 14th February, 2016, “Impressionist and Modern. Masterworks from The Phillips Collection” is not the classical art-history-teaching exhibition, nor the chronological table of artistic techniques, but a visual set of personal sensations and thoughts, coming from what the collector Duncan Phillips has been collecting from 1921, when he founded his collection at Washington D.C.. Curated by Susan Behrends Frank (curator of the collection in Washington as well), the exhibition is indeed a praiseless homage to Phillips’ foresight and engagement to establishing what is today regarded as the first American museum of modern art.

 

Dancers going on fire, disquieting portraits, saints interacting one another, abstract-speaking forms: the selection for the Palaexpo is a wise arrangement of masterpieces from the history of painting, yet also a mirror – thus an important document – of what, in the first decades of 20th century, moved collectors to buy such pieces.

 

Portraits of Duncan Phillips courtesy of The Phillips Collection

Portraits of Duncan Phillips courtesy of The Phillips Collection. Above: Installation view at Palaexpo, “Impressionist and Modern.” © Azienda speciale palaexpo. Courtesy of the museum

 

Being the Phillips Collection displayed in Rome for the first time,“Impressionist and Modern” is a unique occasion to come in contact with 62 paintings from over 50 artists – from late 19th century to the years of the American avant-gardes – condensed in six thematic sections at the ground floor of the Palace. In spite of its humble origin, the collection at Palaexpo gives today no room to the unknowns: the masters of all times take it all. Among them El Greco (an unicum for its period), Ingres,Van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas, Monet, Picasso, Modigliani, Dufy, Morandi, Matisse, Kandinsky, Pollock, Rothko.

 

Throughout the exhibition, works are labeled with a brief explanation on the artist and – more tellingly – on Phillips’s thoughts about him/her. Roualt was his “gothics”, Morandi created “totems of poetic truths”, Goyawas a “foil to Delacroix”, El Greco “the first great expressionist in art.” The visitor is never left alone in front of the masterpieces, and his/her vision is constantly challenged and confronted with Phillips’s.

Dancers at the Barre (early 1880s–c. 1900), Oil on canvas, 130.175 x 97.79 cm. Acquired 1944. Courtesy of the museum

Dancers at the Barre (early 1880s–c. 1900), Oil on canvas, 130.175 x 97.79 cm. Acquired 1944. Courtesy of the museum

 

Not always the classical side of artists is what is shown, but rather their subjective relationship with art, making the exhibition result in a creative limbo out of space and time, where artists meet each other, discussing art and sensations. Through his distruptive Self-portrait (bt. 1878 and 1880), a more psychological Cézanne is being shown, while a Fauvist Degas expresses his fire in orange ambients, red hair, and flamed skin in Dancers at the Barre and Melancholy (1860s). In the Paris room, Picasso shows his Woman with Green Hat (1939), yet the most prominent place is given to a more intimate Blue Room (1901). Even Pollock leaves his abstractions to reveal his primitive side through Composition (1938) – abstractions came later…

 

Jackson Pollock, Composition 1938, oil on canvas, 17 1/2 x 25 3/4 in., Gift of Judith H. Miller, 1990; © 2009 Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the museum

Jackson Pollock, Composition 1938, oil on canvas, 17 1/2 x 25 3/4 in., Gift of Judith H. Miller, 1990; © 2009 Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the museum

 

In “Impressionist and Modern,” intimacy is key. Works are shown based on what they gave, rather than what they represented. That’s why it is a very important exhibition, documenting the subjective aspect of a collection and the choices behind the acquisitions of the masterpieces. It does not happen often – especially in Italy – to see an exhibition entirely devoted to such issues, perhaps regarded as extremely subjective curatorial decisions. But that’s an interesting aspect of art, made of artists, but also of farsighted and sensitive collectors.

 


Impressionist and Modern. Masterworks from The Phillips Collection

16 Oct – 14 Feb 2016

Address: Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Via Nazionale, 194 – 00184 Rome.

Info: 06 399 67 500

 

After earning a BA in Art History (with concentration on modern and contemporary art) she realized her deep interest in museum studies while attending the MA in Visual Arts and Curatorial studies in Milan. Her research is focused on the cultural dynamics of museums and public collections and on their capacity of creating critical spirit within different audiences.

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