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Exhibition on child art inaugurates U. of I., Phillips collaboration

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor


"Bullfight and Pigeons" by Pablo Picasso (age 9)
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Child art Pablo Picasso (age 9), "Bullfight and Pigeons" (Corrida de Toros y Seis Estudios de Palomas), pencil on paper, 1890.
"Painter and Knitting Model" by Pablo Picasso
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Adult art Pablo Picasso, "Painter and Knitting Model," etching on paper, 1927.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A new partnership between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., begins in June with a book and exhibition that examine children’s creativity, art and “giftedness.”

“When We Were Young: New Perspectives on the Art of the Child” opens on June 17 at the Phillips as the premiere initiative of its Center for the Study of Modern Art.

The exhibition will travel to the U. of I.’s Krannert Art Museum this fall. Also this fall, undergraduate, graduate and continuing education students from the university, the D.C. area and elsewhere will participate in a new academic program focusing on the study of modern art called “Illinois at The Phillips Collection.” Classes will be taught by U. of I. faculty members as well as by members of the Phillips’ staff.

The Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of modern art, opened in 1921 in the former home of Duncan Phillips, in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. The museum houses some of the best-known impressionist and modern masterpieces by artists including Cezanne, Degas, van Gogh, Kandinsky, Klee, Matisse, O’Keeffe, Renoir and Rothko.

According to Jonathan Fineberg, the Gutgsell Professor of Art History at the U. of I. and the founding director of Illinois at The Phillips Collection, the program is just one component of the new center. Visiting artist programs, public forums, symposia and discussion groups also will be offered.

“It’s a unique initiative – the first research center of its kind devoted to modern art,” said Fineberg, who also chairs the Phillips’ board of trustees committee on the center. “As we develop endowments for the center, we will be able to create an even richer program.”

Jay Gates, the director of The Phillips Collection, said he believes the center and the collaboration with Illinois hold great promise for both institutions.

“Like the museum itself, The Phillips Collection’s Center for the Study of Modern Art will deepen the public’s understanding and appreciation of modern art and its sources,” Gates said. “We are thrilled and gratified to partner with Illinois on this project, a longtime goal and an unprecedented educational opportunity for the Phillips.”

Jonathon Fineberg
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Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Jonathan Fineberg, the Gutgsell Professor of Art History at the U. of I., is the founding director of Illinois at The Phillips Collecton and co-curator of "When We Were Young: New Perspectives on the Art of the Child.”

Richard Herman, the chancellor of the U. of I.’s Urbana campus, said the institutional partnership will give students from Illinois and elsewhere direct exposure to resources otherwise unavailable outside a large, metropolitan area.

“This is the next best thing to bringing one of the world’s finest institutions and art collections to Illinois,” Herman said.

“This is a perfect program for anyone considering a career in museums or in the arts,” Fineberg said.

“The academic program’s structure is flexible to accommodate students from many backgrounds and at various stages in their academic careers.” It is also geared toward continuing-education students, including professionals working in Washington.

The curriculum will emphasize scholarship and critical inquiry, Fineberg said, and students will have the option of participating in internships linking them with staff members from various museum departments.
The “When We Were Young” exhibition will serve as a focus exhibition in conjunction with the June 17 opening of the larger “Klee in America” exhibition at the museum. The Klee show is the first major American exhibition of the artist’s work in two decades.

Fineberg, who is curating “When We Were Young” with Elizabeth Hutton Turner, senior curator at the Phillips, said the exhibition will function as “a study exhibition of children’s drawings that will focus on issues of authenticity and talent, driven by aesthetics and the mind of the gifted child.”

The show will spotlight the creative roots of two of the modern period’s most recognizable artists: Klee and Picasso. The exhibition will be accompanied by a book-length catalog, published by the University of California Press. The catalog will include an introduction and essay by Fineberg and essays by Turner and Rudolf Arnheim, a founding figure in the psychological study of art.