Colors and Shapes

Pierre Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81.

Two weeks ago my wife and I went to see The Phillips Collection in DC for the first time. It was well worth the $12 price of admission and has given me a lot of new art experiences to reflect on. By far the most popular draw in the museum is Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. Fully half the patrons were packed into the small room, gawking at the painting. It seems that French impressionism is comfort food for the modern museum visitor. And why not? Impressionism is bright, beautiful, painterly, and accessible. It speaks a language that people can understand without translation.

Feeling a bit claustrophobic near the Renoir, I wandered passed the German Expressionists and climbed the stairs where I was confronted by an art exhibit that I haven’t stopped thinking about. It’s called “Relation to and not yet (homage to Mondrian).” (The name includes a hat tip to the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian.)  In what was formerly a dining room I found something for my eyes to feast on.

Large, glossy, monochromatic panels lined the walls—one bright red, another blue, another yellow. As I approached I saw that they were each inscribed with a different geometric pattern. These minimalist paintings were done by Kate Shepherd, an artist I had not previously heard of, but who now has me as a new member of her growing fan club.

Shepherd’s images remind me of Jean Arp woodcuts from the 1940s like the ones below, though her gallery in New York City assured me that she was not influenced by or even aware of them. I also learned that her works are quite pricey and she’s hardly unknown to art connoisseurs, only wannabes and neophytes like me. Fortunately, collectors of modest means can score a signed print of hers for as little as $800 from Pace Prints. Hands off the one titled “Red Sea in a Puddle of Light.” That one’s mine.

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