Nature [Unframed]
"House at Auvers" by ​​Vincent van Gogh (1890); Courtesy of the Phillips Collection

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Nature [Unframed] at the Phillips Collection

Nature [Unframed] belongs to a cluster of events at the Phillips Collection designed to “respond to nature and the climate crisis.” The connecting thread for the six landscape paintings in this one-room exhibit is that each has been removed from its frame. Stripping a landscape of its frame can serve as a metaphor, the exhibit argues, linking the scene to the larger world. Meanwhile, as a sackcloth-and-ashes gesture, the act of removing frames may offer some solidarity with a world grappling with natural destruction. Still, the exhibit’s clearest payoff is humbler: It offers a rare chance to view some great artists’ paintings, furtively, as earthly objects. Once unburdened of fusty, overwrought frames, several of the exhibit’s works expose to the viewer the humble process of assembly, often spotlighting regularly spaced, hand-hammered nails that have kept canvas in place for well over a century. In some pieces, such as one by Julian Alden Weir, the paint splotches over only haphazardly onto its stretched-canvas sides, but in others, such as Claude Monet’s “The Road to Vétheuil,” the brushstrokes continue over the side more completely, turning a planar painting into something more like a 3-D portrayal. In paintings by Paul Cézanne and Gustave Courbet, the frame actually covered a thin, dark border that circumnavigates the painting’s surface; by exposing this border, the frame’s removal lends a surprisingly minimalist, and modernist, sheen to these 19th century works. But the first among equals in this star-studded exhibit is Vincent van Gogh, whose “House at Auvers” is assembled from a riot of strong brushstrokes, in a dizzying array of greens and yellows. Of the six works in the exhibit, van Gogh’s painting is so dramatic that it’s hard to care whether it’s resting in a frame or not. Through May 31 at the Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW. $16.