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
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.
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.
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…
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