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A Summer of Modern Art Announced at the Phillips Collection
Robert Ryman (1930–). Untitled #33, 1963. Oil on unstretched sized linen canvas, 5 3/4 x 6 inches.

WASHINGTON, DC.- This summer, The Phillips Collection will showcase the work of modern masters and contemporary artists alike. Opening on June 5, Robert Ryman’s work is featured in the first Washington overview of this distinguished artist’s career. Another exhibition, also opening on June 5, focuses on the extraordinary 1950s paintings by Richard Pousette-Dart. The museum’s contemporary art series—Intersections—will continue with a new installation by New York-based artist Kate Shepherd, opening June 10. Public programs offered throughout the summer months include the popular Phillips after 5 series, a monthly evening event that features a lively mix of art and entertainment. In response to its great success last year, Phillips after 5 will take place weekly throughout August.

“This is a summer of enormous variety at the Phillips,” says Dorothy Kosinski, director. “Whether you are looking to re-connect with favorite works from the permanent collection, stretch your imagination by taking in our special exhibitions, or gather with friends for an art-filled evening, the Phillips promises to be a dynamic destination.”


During the early 1950s, Richard Pousette-Dart (1916–1992) created one of the most extraordinary bodies of work of his career. Between 1949 and 1954, finding a shortage of funds for materials, he developed a series of paintings nearly without paint, using instead graphite and oil on canvas. For an artist known for his love of impasto, who built up encrusted surfaces with rich texture and color, the “predominantly white” paintings constituted a notable departure. In these spare paintings, drawing merged with painting to create intense and luminous works that served as inspiration throughout his long career.

In 1955, 25 of these works appeared at the Betty Parsons Gallery on 57th Street in Manhattan. Now, some 55 years later, the Phillips will re-create this particular moment in the artist’s career for the first time in Pousette-Dart: Predominantly White Paintings. Featuring approximately 20 paintings, the majority of which come from private collections and are rarely on public view, the exhibition also includes some of the artist’s wire sculptures from the period that he created with found objects.

In 1951 Pousette-Dart described his work, saying, “Sometimes it seems as if I just paint one painting, from a white canvas through an experience of colors and lines and then back to white again, yet always enriched, nothing is ever lost, everything that is achieved, even though it does not appear to be present, remains, and some of my canvases are just this, a final experience of white on white having traveled through and through, like an area of ground wherein much dancing has occurred. Sometimes I feel my paintings exist not on canvas but in space, like musical progressions..."

Born in Saint Paul, Minn., in 1916, Pousette-Dart grew up in Valhalla, N.Y. Although he had no formal art training, his father was a painter and writer on art. In 1936, after a one-year stint at Bard College, he left for New York City to pursue his career as an artist. Pousette-Dart quickly became one of the youngest members of the emerging New York School, which included Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. He drew inspiration from a variety of sources, ranging from African and Oceanic art to European and American artistic trends as well as the writings of Freud and Jung. In 1947 he wrote, “I strive to express the spiritual nature of the universe. Painting for me is a dynamic balance and wholeness of life; it is mysterious and transcending, yet solid and real.”

A fiercely independent and solitary figure, Pousette-Dart left the city in 1951 and settled in upstate New York, where he lived until he died in 1992. This distance from Manhattan reinforced the freedom to deviate from the tenets of Abstract Expressionism and, surrounded by nature, to focus instead on the more spiritual and poetic qualities of his work.


Robert Ryman: Variations and Improvisations features approximately 25 small-scale works that are representative of his long and distinguished career from 1957 to the present. Ryman is best known for his square, white-on-white paintings in which he focuses on the fundamental, physical properties of paint. The paintings are drawn from private collections, some of which have rarely been shown in the U.S. It coincides with the artist’s 80th birthday.

Since 1950, Ryman has focused his attention on the material qualities of his paintings, turning the paint and the methods of application into the subject of his work. He has experimented with a variety of paints, ranging in viscosity and finish, as well as an assortment of supports, including canvas, wood, metal, paper, and plastic. Uninterested in painting a narrative or depicting recognizable reality, Ryman instead isolates the most basic components of painting—material, scale and support—investigating how each relates to the other. He once said, “Painting is a visual experience. I do something with paint, but I’m not painting a picture of anything. I’m not manipulating the paint into an illusion of something other than what the paint does. I make a painting.”

Ryman’s process does not favor one component over another but rather, he gives equal weight to his choice of paint, brushstroke, and method of attachment to the wall, which includes metal or plastic brackets, small screws, or masking tape. Despite the look of his paintings, Ryman does not consider himself to be an abstract painter. He has stated, “I don’t abstract from anything…I am involved with real space, the room itself, real light, and real surface.”

Born in Nashville, Tenn. in 1930, Ryman moved to New York City in 1952 to play jazz and pursue a music career as a tenor saxophonist. To make ends meet, he worked as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art and eventually, by 1954, after looking at the work of Cézanne, de Kooning, Matisse, Picasso, and Pollock and sketching on stolen office supplies in the museum’s galleries, he put away his saxophone in favor of a paintbrush. Since his exhibition debut in 1967, he has gone on to be the subject of more than 100 solo exhibitions in 12 countries, at venues such as Dia Beacon, Beacon, N.Y. and Haus der Kunst, Germany. His work can be found in over 40 public collections in the United States and abroad, including the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y.; and Schaffhausen, Switzerland.


As part of the museum’s contemporary art series, Intersections, Kate Shepherd will create an installation that plays on the architectural details of a former dining room in the original house of The Phillips Collection as well as the ways in which paintings have been displayed in the room over the years.

Shepherd is best known for her large, mostly vertical, monochrome paintings that reference architectural spaces. Built from multiple wooden panels joined together at barely visible seams, the paintings are first coated with luxurious gloss enamel and then painted over with delicate lines to suggest recognizable structures and patterns, such as a scaffold, wallpaper, parquet flooring, tile work, or lace. Installed very low so as to almost touch the floor, her paintings establish a direct and visceral relationship with the viewer.

Shepherd lives and works in New York, N.Y. She earned a B.A. from Oberlin College in 1982 and an M.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts in 1992. She has had numerous solo exhibitions, including shows at Galerie Lelong, Paris and New York; the Barbara Krakow Gallery, Boston, Mass.; and the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, Portland, Ore. Her work is featured in the collections of the Bibliothéque Nationale de France, Paris; the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Mich.; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass.

The Phillips Collection | Dorothy Kosinski | Contemporary Art | Robert Ryman |

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