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Bernardi Roig’s sculptures lurk in surprising spots in ‘NO/Escape’ at the Phillips Collection

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When it comes to museums, Mallorcan artist Bernardi Roig prefers stairs and hallways to gallery walls. “For me, the least interesting place in a museum is its walls,” he says. “There, you will always find what you expect.” For his first show at the Phillips Collection, Roig scattered six eerie white sculptures where you would least expect them: under staircases, blocking doorways and hanging from an outside wall. The show is part of the Phillips’ Intersections series, which invites contemporary artists to install works that connect with the museum’s permanent collection, history and architecture. With “NO/Escape,” Roig draws parallels between his sculptures and the lithographs of the 19th-century French caricaturist Honore Daumier, who often thumbed his nose at the nouveau riche. Because the link between the two artists is not immediately apparent, here’s a look at how some of their works at the Phillips intersect.

‘An illuminated head for Blinky P. (The Gun),’ Bernardi Roig, left

‘Celebre Jury de Peinture,’ Honore Daumier, right

“I was interested in the museum’s relationship with its audience,” Roig says. “It’s a symbiosis that produces experience and insights, but also distance, lack of understanding and rejection.” Roig placed the piece so that it blocks the entrance to the gallery featuring Daumier’s lithographs. In general, “Daumier depicts the audience as skeptical yet inquisitive, at once suspicious and passionate about something it doesn’t understand,” Roig says. Where Daumier’s lithograph shows an ignorant art jury, Roig uses his sculpture to physically prevent access to art. Both subjects serve as gatekeepers, deciding what audiences can and cannot see, the artists offering social commentaries on how people view art.

‘Acteon,’ Bernardi Roig, left

‘Comment, c’est dans cette cave que … ,’ Honore Daumier, right

Although cast from real people, Roig’s life-size, polyester resin ghosts are not portraits, but instead universal likenesses. He calls them “embalmed moments that are part of a theater of appearances without a plot.” Roig says his models “have always reacted badly when they see themselves. Nobody likes to see themselves because nobody accepts themselves as they really are. We always have an idea of ourselves that never coincides with the way others see us.” By contrast, the silly bourgeois patron in Daumier’s lithograph is flattered to have a portrait of himself on display.

‘Herr Mauroner, ’ Bernardi Roig

‘Ma Femme …Comme nous n’aurions pas … ,’ Honore Daumier

Another common thread between Roig and Daumier is the societal problem of overstimulation. “Today we are crushed under the weight of communication technologies that have sequestered experience and our ability to be on our own,” Roig says. “We will soon be a collective self with experiences and memories we have never actually had nor ever felt.” Oversaturated, media-driven societies are where Daumier’s figures are comically stuck and from which Roig’s figures attempt to escape. (In the lithograph, a husband and wife peruse an overstuffed art gallery, one looking only at works on the left, the other the right.) Roig’s “Herr Mauroner” stands on a locked balcony at the Phillips, about to toss a bundle of fluorescent lights, freeing himself of his burden.

Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW; Sat. through March 8, $10–$12.

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