Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

A favorite son returns to the Phillips

Pin It

The Phillips Collection is done renting out its American art collection (at least for now) and many, many wonderful things are back in Washington where they belong. The Phillips is celebrating their return in a show called, “Made in the USA: American Masters from The Phillips Collection, 1850-1970.” It’s on view through August 31.

The highlight of the exhibition is its watercolors — especially the many John Marins, but also watercolors by Charles Burchfield — and its rich presentation of Arthur Dove. (I shared one of ┬áthe Marins at the top of yesterday’s Monday Checklist post.) But I also enjoyed the Phillips’ continued commitment to Augustus Vincent Tack, a painter whose works are in many major collections (in part because Phillips founder Duncan Phillips went to bat for his guy), but whose greatest works are in Washington. The Phillips owns an astonishing 79 Tacks. I was pleased to see that the Washington CityPaper’s Kriston Capps tipped his hat toward Tack in his review of “Made in the USA.” (The Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott mentioned Tack too, but not quite as warmly.)

The Phillips keeps Tack on view a good bit: Its last major  presentation of his work was in 2011, when the museum installed an important suite of Tacks in its Music Room, the site for which they were commissioned. On that occasion, I argued that Tack deserves to be better known for his contributions to American abstraction.

That’s still true. Consider the painting at the top of this post: Time and Timelessness (The Spirit of Creation). It’s an enormous painting — about eight-feet-by-four-feet — that Tack made in 1943-44. It’s ostensibly an ‘oil sketch’ for a mural-cum-curtain George Washington University commissioned for its Lisner Auditorium. (See and read more about the Lisner sorta-mural here.) Both the oil sketch and the semi-mural itself are gigantic given the norms of the day — and especially given war-time shortages. The Time and Timelessnesses have never been as well-known or as famous as a certain other famous abstract painting that also dates to 1943, itself the product of a commission as a part of which the patron determined the size of the thing. [Image: Tack’s Time and Timelessness at the Lisner in 2011. Photo by Sarah Osborne Bender.]

Sure, there are many good reasons that the other 1943 painting is more famous. It should be. Tack never really had a chance to build on the Lisner commission: He fell ill while painting the full-size mural and died several years later, in 1949. But as I argued here, Tack’s role in the development of American abstraction deserves to be much better known. With that other great 1943 painting receiving so much (deserved) attention, now seems a particularly good time to offer up a little more on Augustus Vincent Tack.

Pin It

Add a Comment