Recent Exhibitions
The Seduction of Light: Ammi Phillips | Mark Rothko Compositions in Pink, Green, and Red
October 7, 2008–March 29, 2009
Ammi Phillips (1788–1865) and Mark Rothko (1903–1970), two American masters disparate in time, place, and presentation, pursued the soul-thirsting creation of inner light through the “realm of the canvas,” as Rothko once termed it. For Rothko, the surface of a canvas presented limitless space to be explored with intrepidity into great distances and with mythic dramas enacted in each succeeding layer. Phillips did not penetrate the “mysterious recesses” of the canvas quite as deeply but worked closer to the surface in shimmering light-filled or velvety dark-filled spaces that seem to exist apart from the known world. In their paintings, both Rothko and Phillips opened portals to a dimension where form was suspended in an ether of suffused atmosphere, and where the mysticism of light was coaxed into being primarily through the vehicle of color. Evident in the work of each artist are areas of darkness that barely distinguish, so that fierce colors explode from within. Other times, layers of ethereal hues, so thin that the ground fairly shimmers, erase or contribute spatial referents. For neither artist was color a simple tool to compose pleasing arrangements; instead it was a complex language of its own, used to invent and investigate the depths offered by the deceptive flat plane of the canvas.

“The Seduction of Light” includes large-scale canvases from Rothko's classic period of the 1950s and 1960s, when the paintings had already transcended representation and reached a purity of meaning held solely in color, texture, depth, and proportion. Phillips’s greatest achievements are surveyed through masterpieces from 1815 through the 1830s. Without abandoning representation, the artist pushed the limits of portraiture well beyond the constraints of his time, presaging a modern sensibility and engaging with his materials to create gorgeous and encompassing fields of color.

Ammi Phillips and Mark Rothko: two seekers, each of whose work illuminates the other’s and brings new light into the world.

Stacy C. Hollander, curator
Exhibition Catalog
The Seduction of Light: Ammi Phillips | Mark Rothko Compositions in Pink, Green, and Red
By Stacy C. Hollander, with Bonnie Clearwater. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2008. 30 pages (bound in with Folk Art Fall 2008, vol. 33). Available at the museum shop.
Reviews & Related Media
New York Times review
Financial Times review
THIRTEEN video of panel discussion featuring Bonnie Clearwater and Stacy C. Hollander
“The Seduction of Light: Ammi Phillips | Mark Rothko Compositions in Pink, Green, and Red” is made possible in part by support from the David Berg Foundation and the Robert Lehman Foundation. Museum exhibitions are supported in part by the Leir Charitable Foundations in memory of Henry J. & Erna D. Leir, the Gerard C. Wertkin Exhibition Fund, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.