ECA News Briefs

The Phillips Collection Announces Centennial Commissions by Wesley Clark, Nekisha Durrett, and Victor Ekpuk

As part of its centennial celebrations in 2021, The Phillips Collection is excited to announce site-specific commissions by three DC-based artists: Wesley Clark, Nekisha Durrett, and Victor Ekpuk. Clark’s project will be presented at Phillips@THEARC, the museum’s satellite campus at Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus in Southeast DC (scheduled for the fall); Durrett’s work will be installed on the bridges of The Phillips Collection connecting the museum’s Goh Annex building to the original House (summer); and Ekpuk’s immersive installation will occupy the entrance vestibule (summer).

From left to right: Wesley Clark, Photo by Jati Lindsay; Nekisha Durrett, Photo by Farrah Skeiky; Victor Ekpuk, Photo by the artist.

“Washington, DC-based artists Wesley Clark, Nekisha Durrett, and Victor Ekpuk have all produced work that is part of the fabric of our city,” says Vradenburg Director and CEO Dorothy Kosinski. “So it is fitting that these artists were chosen to create powerful, contemporary installations to celebrate our centennial. Thank you to the interdepartmental team—led by Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Vesela Sretenović and Director of Community Engagement Nehemiah Dixon III—for their thorough search process and final selection of these artists.”

Each conceived with the specific site in mind, the proposed artworks reference the past and speak to the future. Clark designs geometric forms that represent how creative spaces are always generating new ideas. Durrett draws inspiration from the Phillips’s treasured Migration Series (1940-41) by Jacob Lawrence, the epic series that chronicles American history. Ekpuk, a Nigerian-American artist, creates paintings and drawings that are based on the ancient Nigerian communication system, Nsibidi.

“As the city is gradually reopening after a year of battling the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as social and racial unrest, and as museums are rethinking their role as places of civic engagement, we need art to inspire us and help us reflect on the past and the future,” notes Dr. Vesela Sretenović, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “As we celebrate our 100th anniversary, these site-specific projects by DC-based artists are a way to directly connect with our audiences, becoming an inclusive museum that fosters participation and collaboration.”

“Since its inception, The Phillips Collection was intended to be an integral part of the community and to highlight community voices,” explains Director of Community Engagement Nehemiah Dixon III. “Showcasing the works of local artists in our spaces shows visitors what is possible, and where creativity and imagination can take them.”

Wesley Clark (b. 1979, Washington, DC; lives in Hyattsville, MD): Phillips@THEARC

Wesley Clark is the lead artist of Wesley Clark Art (WCA). His practice includes painting, printmaking, and sculpture. He received his BFA from Syracuse University and his MFA from The George Washington University. He has exhibited works at institutions such as the Katzen Arts Center, American University, Washington DC; Columbia College Glass Curtain Gallery, Chicago, Illinois; Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee; as well as Scope and Prizm Art Fair, Miami, Florida, during Art Basel. Clark’s work is in notable collections such as the Asheville Art Museum, North Carolina, and The Studio Museum in Harlem.

Comprising a team of mixed media artists, teachers, and art professionals, WCA aims to inspire, motivate, move the mind, and beautify spaces. WCA entered the public art realm in 2016 when invited by the American Alliance of Museums to create a temporary public artwork at the site of President Lincoln’s Cottage. Since then WCA has produced several permanent site specific works ranging from installations to free standing sculpture to wall reliefs for several DC Public Schools, Kenilworth Recreation Center, Baltimore City, and for The Hotel at the University of Maryland.

“Morphing dimensions, bending time and space—these geometric forms represent the beginning stages of the creation process—something new being birthed. It’s a representation of a creative space always on the verge of bringing forth new ideas. New ideas bring new ways of thinking. And new ways of thinking are new beginnings. My aim is for these forms to bring that energy and concept into a space to further fuel the creative process taking place.”

Nekisha Durrett (b. 1976, Washington, DC; lives in Washington, DC): The bridges of the museum on 21st Street, NW

Nekisha Durrett’s large scale public art and installations reflect her interest in the visual language of mass media and advertising; the layered meanings that objects can hold; and the space where fantasy, imagination, and history can converge. She earned her BFA at The Cooper Union in New York City and MFA from The University of Michigan School of Art and Design. Durrett has exhibited her work throughout the Washington, DC, area and beyond, including the US Botanic Garden, West End Library, Flashpoint and Hillyer Art Galleries, and Arlington Arts Center, and the Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe. Durrett has received multiple project grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and was an Artist-in-Residence at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont. Durrett was a finalist in the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition in 2019. Her recent installations include Up ‘til Now, a freestanding, solar powered sculpture in the Dupont Circle neighborhood that evokes the history of DC’s landscape and architecture, and a permanent installation on the vestibule of the newly renovated Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in DC.

“In 1993, I caught a bus with my classmates to The Phillips Collection to attend a book signing for Deborah Willis who had written for the Migration Series catalogue. To my surprise, Jacob Lawrence was there greeting my classmates and me with a handshake and a warm smile. This was one of many trips to the Phillips, but my first time seeing the experiences of Black people lifted up and amplified on museum walls and meeting an art hero in the flesh. Drawing upon my own biography and Lawrence’s Migration Series, I propose to re-imagine the façade of The Phillips Collection with translucent window film that echoes the modernist, geometric presentation of this masterful series that told of the exodus of Black people from the rural South and their migration to the urban North. The façade will at once celebrate this seminal artist and amplify a moment in time that forever altered the shape of American culture here, there, and everywhere.”

Victor Ekpuk (b. 1964, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria; lives in Washington, DC): The vestibule of the museum on 21st Street, NW

Victor Ekpuk is internationally renowned for his paintings, drawings, and sculptures, which reimagine the ancient Nigerian communication system, Nsibidi, to create his own unique language of abstraction. Ekpuk draws from African and global contemporary art discourse to explore the human condition. In recent years, Ekpuk has focused on large-scale murals, installations, and public art projects, including a 30 x 18-foot mural for the North Carolina Museum of Art in 2017, and a 20-foot metal sculpture Hope and Dream Under Glory housed at Boone Elementary School in Southeast DC in 2019.

Ekpuk is a Smithsonian Fellow and holds a BFA from Obafemi Awolowo University. His work has been featured in national and international exhibitions, including Dakar Biennial, Senegal; Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris; Museum of Arts and Design, New York; Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC; Somerset House, London; New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; and the 12th Havana Biennial, Havana, Cuba. Ekpuk’s work is included in numerous collections including the Bank ABC International Headquarters in the Kingdom of Bahrain; Hood Museum, Hanover, New Hampshire; Newark Museum of Art, New Jersey; and in Washington, DC, at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, The World Bank, United States Art in Embassies Art Collection, and Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.

“In the vestibule of The Phillips Collection, I want to welcome visitors to a sense of a spiritual sacred space through an immersive experience. Through my ‘script’ drawings, the distinction between writing and visual art, legibility and illegibility are all dissolved. This process encourages viewers to experience my work in a holistic manner, allowing the abstraction rooted in ancestral knowledge and indigenous power symbols to build intuitive meaning. In the vestibule, I wish to create a collective experience across cultures and space to connect the ancient past and the contemporary moment.”

COMMISSIONS CREDIT LINE

The Phillips Collection’s Centennial Artist Commissions are supported generously by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Frauke de Looper Trust, and the Sherman Fairchild Foundation.

ABOUT THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION

The Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of modern art, was founded in 1921. The museum houses one of the world’s most celebrated Impressionist and American modern art collections, and continues to grow its collection with important contemporary voices. Its distinctive building combines extensive new galleries with the former home of its founder, Duncan Phillips. The Phillips’s impact spreads nationally and internationally through its diverse and experimental special exhibitions and events, including its award-winning education programs for educators, students, and adults; renowned Phillips Music series; and dynamic art and wellness and Phillips after 5 events. The museum contributes to global dialogues with events like Conversations with Artists and Artists of Conscience. The Phillips Collection values its community partnerships with the University of Maryland—the museum’s nexus for scholarly exchange and interdisciplinary collaborations—and THEARC—the museum’s satellite campus in Southeast DC. The Phillips Collection is a private, non-government museum, supported primarily by donations.