AU Museum spotlights two of DC’s art scene’s keenest observers


Let’s address the ethical issue first: Generally speaking, museums find it difficult to host entire exhibitions of private collections, such as the “Barlow Gilotti Collection” on display at the American University Museum.

Because art collectors benefit if their works are displayed in a prestigious location, as these works can increase in visibility and value. Museums that rely on collectors can be considered offering their platforms to those supporters in exchange for support. One hand washes the other: this concern is often respected when the rule is broken.

However, the AU Museum is not exactly an art collecting institution. Philip Barlow and his partner Lisa Gilotti – two public servants – do not look like the typical investor-donors who set the agenda for many museums today. Would many collectors have had the same effect as these civil servants? Audiences and institutions would do better.

Occupying a third of the seashell-shaped museum building at American University’s Katzen Center for the Arts, the exhibit features 88 pieces from a collection of 459 assembled by Barlow and Gilotti, their art collection spanning 33 years. As a collector’s show, it’s a doubly unique exhibition: a broad survey of hyperlocal artworks (which is rare) and a scant trace of the style of the Washington Color School for which the city is best known (still rare).

Dancing Star (1999) is a good entry point. Wayne Edson Bryan’s painting resembles a block collage with ink and enamel panels of digital static and floral print patterns. One square shows a neuroimaging brain scan, the other a fingerprint sample. The push and pull is fun and has a bit of impact. An unresolved part represents chaos rising from order – or it could be the other way around.

Brian’s piece may be a response to Simon Gouverner’s Welkin (1987), a generation earlier. This painting features a series of concentric circles with even bolder colored target shapes within each ring, as well as a set of mysterious grid-like letters in the center of the painting. Gouverneur ran with Color School artists like Sam Gilliam, but his dense cerebral structures were undermined by the broader movements of that movement.

Sam Gilliam, the abstract artist who transcended the frame, has died at the age of 88

Vivienne M. Lassman, the region’s independent curator, helped collectors find a common theme in the works they own. — because they are all small enough to fit in their own home. His treatment conforms to strict geometric abstraction. An acrylic grid by Andrea Way, an ink mandala by Jason Hughes, a circle sketch by Lynn Meyers—it all seems to stretch back to Gouverneur, the artist who has cast the longest shadow over the county (not his immediate compatriot). Gilliam). Lassman makes a compelling case for this alternative history.

Knowing collectors, it makes sense that they value works with a mathematical zeal. Gilotti is a federal autism researcher and Barlow is an actuary for the US government. Indeed, the scientific flexibility of the couple depends on how they approach art. The view includes charts and tables showing data about the collection: purchases by year, competition of featured artists, and more.

Geometry is not the only trend in the show. Examples of lyrical works include Pat Gosley’s soulful “Greenery” (2008), Nikki Painter’s dynamic “Enclosure” (2008), and Hedie Ilchi’s “How We Break, Fix, and Shake” (2016). (Gosley is married to Washington Post reporter Michael O’Sullivan.) The survey also includes a photo, video and sculpture. As strict data scientists, collectors track the following, of course: Painting accounts for 35 percent of the works in the collection and half of all acquisition costs.

Although the video only makes up 2 percent of the collection, Barlow and Gilotti’s selection makes a big impression. For Kathryn Cornelius’s memorable 2005 work, The Decision, the screen shows the artist pushing a vacuum cleaner on a beach, a Sisyphean task full of feminist swagger and tender spirituality. José Ruiz’s Ghost Signatures and Minimalist Graffiti (2005) puts the artist on two screens: one in which Ruiz, dressed in black, spray-paints a black image, and in the other, his double, dressed in white, paints over it. It’s street art that seems far removed from Gouverneur’s symmetrical labyrinths, De Kooning Painting, but it’s binary.

No one asked, but Barlow tracked his gallery visits for a year: 257 shows, about five a week, and that’s without a car. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen Barlow’s svelte bob at every art opening in the DC metro area for 30 years. For those who frequent the gallery, The Barlow Gilotti Collection feels like a homecoming. I can look at the works in this show in spaces that I no longer remember their location. These collectors supported artists who had long since left the area, artists who had died, artists who had failed.

Two paintings in the exhibition appear to rise above eye level and float along a wall lined with works below. One is Manon Cleary’s Sky View #8, a 1998 delicate landscape painting of a storm cloud formation. The other is Ian Whitmore’s Keyhole (2010-11), a nebulous puzzle-shaped painting on canvas. I think of these two artists often, but never together. My friend Whitmore enjoyed sensational growth with sold-out solo shows until family and other commitments took him out of the area. Cleary died in 2011 after an influential career as an artist and teacher; his widow still writes to him on her Facebook page. Collecting art can reveal hidden connections between works. The pair hums with a gentle energy attuned to those celestial spheres that Gouverneur hopes to open.

The show includes at least two works collected together by Barlow and Gilotti from 1989 to 2022, to give the collection a broad representation. The methodical approach combines well-known artists such as Sondra Arkin and Renee Stout with relative newcomers. Sarah Hull and Chris Combs. The road here is the city itself – a city of makers and makers – seen through the eyes of two of its most constant observers.

Barlow Gilotti Collection

American University Museum of Art at the Katzen Art Center, 4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW. 202-885-1300.

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