Eye to Eye: Joseph Marioni at the Phillips, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Joseph Marioni, Blue Painting, 1995

October 22, 2011 – January 29, 2012

Organized as part of The Phillips Collection’s 90th anniversary, Eye to Eye features a group of paintings by modern American artist Joseph Marioni in the context of the museum permanent collection. The exhibition has a dual premise: to introduce the shared belief of museum founder Duncan Phillips and painter Joseph Marioni that color is the “most direct instrument of painting,” and to follow the development of color and light in modern art as it is presented in the collection.

Joseph Marioni (b. 1943) is best known for his highly saturated paintings constructed of multiple layers of superimposed colors. Free of narrative, they are explorations of color and light, or, as the artist says, “liquid light.” He applies coats of acrylic paint on stretched linen with rollers, brushes, palette knives, spoons, and even his own hands in order to manipulate the paint and accomplish the sensation of a flowing surface. Marioni’s work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Fogg Museum, Cambridge; and Kunstmuseum Basel, among others. He lives and works in New York City.

In Eye to Eye, Marioni’s glowing paintings are surrounded with works by artists from the late-19th century to the present who employ color, light, line, and gestural marks as their primary means of expression. One room brings together the paintings of modern European colorists (Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh) who forayed into abstraction, while another showcases their American counterparts (Milton Avery, Arthur Dove, Albert Pinkham Ryder), revealing the artists’ similar preoccupation with color and light yet different sensibilities. Another room is dedicated to both American and European modernists (Adolph Gottlieb, Joan Mitchell, Piet Mondrian) who established their paintings as autonomous pictorial entities rather than representations of reality. Additional rooms are dedicated to John Marin, one of the first Americans to embrace abstraction through color and line; the Washington Color School painters (Gene Davis, Thomas Downing, Morris Louis), who focused on the expressive power and optical effects of color; and contemporary artists (Tayo Heuser, Jorge Pardo, Kate Shepherd), who engage the eye in the experience of color and light.

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