“Inside Outside” is hardly the first local art exhibition to contemplate the tumultuous year of covid-19, Black Lives Matter and a fraught presidential election. But the show is one of the largest and most impressive to ponder the crises, paradoxes and sheer boredom of 2020, when some people sheltered at home while others spilled into the streets.
The exhibition is also a rare major museum showcase for a large group of local artists. For one of several undertakings designed to mark its 100th anniversary, the Phillips invited area painters, sculptors, photographers and video-makers to submit works. More than 800 — veteran and emerging, well-known or not — did so. The panel of jurors, led by noted local multimedia artist Renee Stout, selected pieces by 64 artists.
The range is wide, but the show’s theme did yield an unusually large amount of representational art, and more than a few self-portraits. Some of the latter depict the artists literally, although perhaps masked, as in Nicolas F. Shi’s “I Am Not a Virus,” a rebuff of anti-Asian bigotry. Others illustrate themselves in words and gestures: Julia Bloom used an old typewriter to record diarylike accounts of 2020, only to cover most of the text with somber, simple forms drawn with black charcoal.
As Tate’s looking glass indicates, not all the works are in the breaking-news category. Yet there are such timely offerings as Peter Cizmadia’s twinned portraits of masked Wuhan doctors, spray-painted realistically but in queasy reds and purples; Carlos Carmonamedina’s digital illustration of food lines at Cardozo High School; Colin Winterbottom’s solemn black-and-white photo of a vigil for Ruth Bader Ginsburg; and Kate Kretz’s color photo of a red mask in the MAGA-hat style but with an alternate slogan: “social murder.”
While no one else peers as far into the past as the 6th century, several artists connect 2020 to bygone eras. Werllayne Nunes’s three-panel painting of children of color using a tin-can telephone seems to depict the recent past, but is enclosed in a golden frame that hints at a much older time. Maremi Andreozzi’s painting of silhouetted figures indirectly portrays 19th-century leaders of the women’s suffrage movement.
The show’s three videos express pandemic panic, but also acceptance. David Mordini’s is a fierce breathing exercise in which the artist is alternately masked and unmasked, while Jessica Valoris’s turns hand-washing into a timeless ritual. Most serene of the trio is Mojdeh Rezaeipour’s “Watching Time Watching God,” a slow motion collage of shadows, reflections and ambient sounds. Its sense of detachment could reflect a furlough that’s voluntary or enforced.
Several portrayals of isolation are similarly ambiguous. Rendered in acrylic, water and pencil, Marie Ringwald’s unpopulated slice of exurbia can be seen as either calm or edgy. Sarah Dolan draws her face behind a house made of candy-colored translucent tiles (her toddler daughter’s toys, in what is perhaps a vision of domestic imprisonment). In a collage-drawing, Katherine Knight shows a woman who’s trying to fix a laptopscreen that — it seems likely — she smashed in frustration with a cyber-cocooned life.
Two nonfigurative pieces manage to appear simultaneously fractured and exalted. Ara Koh’s “Inquiry of Breathing,” a stoneware sculpture, suggests a battered rib cage as well as a rusted machine. Wesley Clark’s “The Feeling,” a painted wooden rectangle with nails and screws hammered densely at its center, recalls both the Red Cross logo and a traditional Congolese talisman. Neither artwork is specific to 2020, but each evokes ongoing struggle and hard-won accomplishment.
This is an unusual exhibition for the Phillips, with one more uncommon aspect: a People’s Choice Award, to be chosen by popular vote at: insideoutside.phillipscollection.org/link/peopleschoiceaward. Voting closes after Sunday.
If you go
Inside Outside, Upside Down
Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW. phillipscollection.org.
Dates: Through Sept. 12.
Prices: $16; $12 for seniors; $10 for students and teachers; free for members and ages 18 and under. Timed-entry tickets are required.