The Phillips Collection, the DC art museum that grew from the collection of early 20th-century Washingtonian Duncan Phillips, is capping off its 2021 centennial by hosting the final stop in a groundbreaking national tour of Struggle: From the History of the American People by celebrated 20th-century artist Jacob Lawrence.
It is one of four exhibitions on tap this summer and fall to complement The Phillips’ centennial exhibition Seeing Differently: The Phillips Collects for a New Century, which runs through September 12. All are included in regular museum admission.
JACOB LAWRENCE: THE AMERICAN STRUGGLE, JUNE 26 TO SEPTEMBER 19
Like Lawrence’s better-known 60-panel Migration series, the 30-panel Struggle comprises a painted narrative of key moments in American history, in this case the American Revolution through the aftermath of the War of 1812. Although the hardboard panels are small (they vary in size, with the majority measuring 12 inches by 16 inches), the vibrantly colored cubist depictions of history make a powerful statement.
Jacob Lawrence, Panel 16, There are combustibles in every State, which a spark might set fire to.—Washington, 26; December 1786, 1956, egg tempera on hardboard, 17 ½ x 21 ¾ in, Private Collection, from Struggle: From the History of the American People, 1954–56 © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Lawrence painted his Struggle series from 1954 to 1956, during the height of the McCarthy era and just as the Civil Rights Movement was gaining ground. His paintings (with their sometimes lengthy accompanying captions) make clear that American history was made by and belongs to all Americans—women as well as men, Blacks and Native Americans as well as whites.
The Struggle series was shown only once in its entirety—at a New York art gallery in 1958—before being dispersed among various owners. The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, reunited this important series for a two-year, five-stop tour that began at the Peabody in 2020 and traveled to the Museum of Modern Art (New York City), the Birmingham Museum of Art (Alabama) and the Seattle Art Museum (Washington) and culminates at The Phillips. The exhibition at The Phillips includes two panels that had been missing until they surfaced in 2020 and 2021.
INSIDE OUT, UPSIDE DOWN, JULY 17 TO SEPTEMBER 12
While Lawrence’s Struggle deals with early American history, the other exhibition coming online this summer at The Phillips showcases up-to-the-moment responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and recent social upheaval in the US. The juried exhibition Inside Out, Upside Down features 65 works selected from more than 1,300 submitted by artists—established, emerging and self-taught—from the greater DC region.
Carol Antezana, Las Gringas, 2021, digital photographic print, 20 x 16 in., courtesy of the artist
The selected artists, who range in age from 19 to 84, used a variety of media (painting, sculpture, videography and more) to depict the most recent events in our country’s history. The exhibition revives what was a museum tradition during founder Duncan Phillips’ tenure from 1935 to 1950 of annual juried exhibitions of work by artists from the capital region.
DAVID DRISKELL: ICONS OF NATURE AND HISTORY, OCTOBER 16, 2021, TO JANUARY 9, 2022
October brings exhibitions devoted to two trailblazing artists: David Driskell and Alma W. Thomas. Both were born in Georgia and made their lives and careers in Washington, DC, contributing significantly to the art scene in the capital region even as they became known on a world stage.
Artist, scholar and curator David Driskell (1931
–2020) was regarded as a foremost authority on African American art. He taught for many years at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, was a long-time trustee of The Phillips Collection and was honored by Bill Clinton with a National Humanities Medal.
David Driskell, Woman with Flowers, 1972; Oil and collage on canvas, 37 1/2 × 38 1/2 in.; Art Bridges, Bentonville, Arkansas, AB.2018.3 © Estate of David C. Driskell and courtesy DC Moore Gallery, New York
The first comprehensive exhibit of his own art, David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History comprises more than 50 paintings, collages, prints and drawings inspired by the artist’s reverence for the American landscape and his connection to the African diaspora. The exhibition was shown earlier this year at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.
ALMA W. THOMAS: EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL, OCTOBER 30, 2021, TO JANUARY 23, 2022
In 1972, Alma W. Thomas (1891
–1978) became the first Black woman given a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She was 81 at the time. For 35 years, from 1925 to 1950, she had taught art at DC’s Shaw Junior High School for Black students while working on her own art part time. It wasn’t until she retired and could devote herself to her artwork that she developed her signature abstract style.
Alma Thomas, Breeze Rustling Through Fall Flowers, 1968; Acrylic on canvas, 57 7/8 x 50 in; Gift of Franz Bader, 1976
The retrospective Alma Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful includes both artworks and archival materials. The exhibition was co-organized by Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, where it opened in July 2021, and the Columbus Museum, Georgia, which hosts the show’s final stop in summer 2022.
LECTURES AND MUSIC RETURN TO THE PHILLIPS THIS FALL
The Phillips Collection is known as well for hosting lectures on art and for its vibrant music program, which began under founder Duncan Phillips. Both will be returning this fall.
The Duncan Phillips Lectures series kicks off October 14 with an address by Lonnie Bunch III, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, about the future of museums.
Caroline Shaw & Attacca Quartet in Music Room. Still shot of video by Dominic Mann
Music performances return for the season on September 16 with countertenor John Holiday’s Hold On! Freedom Is Coming! The program juxtaposes selections from classical Italian opera with songs written by African American composers during the Civil Rights era.