DC artist Nekisha Durrett’s Art Deco-inspired “stained glass” design made of colorful, translucent window film creates a sacred space on the two bridges of The Phillips Collection.
Titled Airshaft (2021), the modernist, geometric work is influenced by Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Duke Ellington’s instrumental Harlem Airshaft, written in the same era, which speaks to the city noise heard all around Harlem apartments. Durrett contrasts this by incorporating elements of panel 31 in the Migration Series, which she sees as a cathedral for migrant residents. The two-story installation connects the museum’s Goh Annex to the original Phillips House.It is one of three commissions, all by DC-based artists, that celebrate the Phillips’s 100th anniversary this year.
Nekisha Durrett (b. 1976, Washington, DC; lives in Washington, DC)
Nekisha Durrett’s large scale public art and installations reflect her interest in the visual language of mass media and advertising; the layered meanings that objects can hold; and the space where fantasy, imagination, and history can converge. She earned her BFA at The Cooper Union in New York City and MFA from the University of Michigan School of Art and Design. Durrett has exhibited her work throughout the Washington, DC, area and beyond, including the US Botanic Garden, West End Library, Flashpoint and Hillyer Art Galleries, and Arlington Arts Center, and the Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe. Durrett has received multiple project grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and was an Artist-in-Residence at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont. Durrett was a finalist in the National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition in 2019. Her recent installations include Up ‘til Now, a freestanding, solar powered sculpture in the Dupont Circle neighborhood that evokes the history of DC’s landscape and architecture, and a permanent installation on the vestibule of the newly renovated Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library in DC. Her work is included in The Phillips Collection’s 2021 juried invitational, Inside Outside, Upside Down.
“In 1993, I caught a bus with my classmates to The Phillips Collection to attend a book signing for Deborah Willis who had written for the Migration Series catalogue. To my surprise, Jacob Lawrence was there greeting my classmates and me with a handshake and a warm smile. This was one of many trips to the Phillips, but my first time seeing the experiences of Black people lifted up and amplified on museum walls and meeting an art hero in the flesh. Drawing upon my own biography and Lawrence’s Migration Series, I re-imagine the façade of The Phillips Collection with translucent window film that echoes the modernist, geometric presentation of this masterful series that told of the exodus of Black people from the rural South and their migration to the urban North. The façade at once celebrates this seminal artist and amplifies a moment in time that forever altered the shape of American culture here, there, and everywhere.”
COMMISSIONS CREDIT LINE
The Phillips Collection’s Centennial Artist Commissions are supported generously by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Frauke de Looper Trust, and the Sherman Fairchild Foundation.
IMAGE: Nekisha Durrett with her artwork Airshaft (2021) in the bridges of The Phillips Collection. Photo: Brendan Canty
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ABOUT THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION
The Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of modern art, was founded in 1921. The museum houses one of the world’s most celebrated Impressionist and American modern art collections, and continues to grow its collection with important contemporary voices. Its distinctive building combines extensive new galleries with the former home of its founder, Duncan Phillips. The Phillips’s impact spreads nationally and internationally through its diverse and experimental special exhibitions and events, including its award-winning education programs for educators, students, and adults; renowned Phillips Music series; and dynamic art and wellness and Phillips after 5 events. The museum contributes to global dialogues with events like Conversations with Artists and Artists of Conscience. The Phillips Collection values its community partnerships with the University of Maryland—the museum’s nexus for scholarly exchange and interdisciplinary collaborations—and THEARC—the museum’s satellite campus in Southeast DC. The Phillips Collection is a private, non-government museum, supported primarily by donations.