Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Yesterday Tyler worried about the Phillips Collection taking a turn toward contemporary art, and bringing in younger artists in hopes of attracting younger patrons. And while I understand the idea that any institution ought to do programming that makes sense in the frame of its already established identity and collection, I'm personally excited about prospects for the Phillips's future--and not just because of recent financial windfalls. As much as I enjoy seeing the Diebenkorns and Bonnards that I can count on finding at the Phillips--and believe me, I do--I'm all for bringing in more contemporary artists.

Sure, the current Christo and Jeanne Claude show isn't an entirely encouraging step forward towards special contemporary exhibitions (although, as Blake noted when he reviewed Over the River for the WaPo, it was conceived prior to new director Dorothy Kosinski's arrival). But I think shows that illustrate the relationship between what art actually is in the present moment and what Duncan Phillips's idea of modern art was--which, after all, wasn't formed all that long ago--could add much needed perspective on the collection, and offer lots of opportunities to revisit familiar work.

It may not have anything to do with contemporary art, but I'm reminded of the traveling exhibition that came to the Phillips back in 2007, Moving Pictures. No, the Phillips is not someplace you would identify with collecting film or video, but that didn't stop them from lining the gallery walls with huge LCD monitors. The show very effectively demonstrated the reciprocal relationships between photography, early film, and painting at the beginning of the 20th century--and how the viewer's expectations for images in all three mediums would be dramatically, irrevocably changed. In this context, several very strong paintings by John Sloan from the collection drew my attention in a way they otherwise never would have.

Of course, it could just be that I'm hungry for somebody, anybody in this town to start putting together smart and ambitious contemporary art shows. And if the Phillips has the resources and intellectual energy to do it, then I say full speed ahead. Still waiting for them to officially announce their new curator...

Pictured: John Sloan, Six O'Clock, Winter, 1912, oil on canvas, The Phillips Collection


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"as Blake noted when he reviewed Over the River for the WaPo, it was conceived prior to new director Dorothy Kosinski's arrival..."

Yes, but the board approved the show.

And I'm not saying the Phillips shouldn't ever engage with the present. It should. But it should do contemporary things within the context of what it does and what it is, not do contemporary shows for the sake of doing contemporary shows. (Start a residency program for artists who have a particular interest in early modernism, invite artists to engage with the Phillips' collection, etc.)

They haven't figured that out yet, at least not in the galleries/lecture hall.


10:20 AM  
Blogger Mark Cameron Boyd said...

A crazy idea - "start putting together smart and ambitious contemporary art shows." Say, you're a curator- why don't you do that?

3:26 PM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

Tyler--I see what you're saying, and I think that makes good sense.

Mark--Geez, I kinda hoped that I was doing that already--to the extent that I can at the AAC. I'm talking about, say, an institution with a staff of more than four and a half employees, and maybe a few million dollars to throw around, instead of a few thousand.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Mark Cameron Boyd said...

Of course, you are! That was my point: don't under-estimate your input into the DC Contemporary Arts Scene. What you probably meant to say was how you'd like to see others join AAC in putting on edgier shows.

7:49 PM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

Aw, shucks. Yes, and thanks!

10:34 AM  
Blogger Janice C. Cartier said...

New here to your blog, but I am very excited about the possibilities at the Phillips( which is one of my favorite collections in the world.) I love the moderns. I find I have more in common with them than I thought. I am not a curator, or an art writer, just a painter, but it seems that breathing a bit of life and relevance in new contexts would only lead to showing how enduring the ideas of the moderns actually are. Phillips knew the "good stuff" when he saw it...I think resources engaged in a contemporary dialogue might broaden the appeal of those we love so much. Just some thoughts. Like I said, I am not a curator, it's just that art is a living breathing thing to me.

I like what you said in your post. Jh and I like that Tyler is keeping his eye out for the collection. ;-) I love that place.

10:55 AM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

Thanks for reading, Janice--and for taking the time to write.

Like you, I'm trained as a painter...and I'm pretty sure that my tastes in paintings are not all that dissimilar from Tyler's, really. For that reason, of course I absolutely love the collection.

But as a curator, I also know the kinds of shows I want to see...and I don't see why that kind of programming can't coexist with--and open a dialogue with--those fabulous paintings.

Again, obviously it has to be done in a way that recognizes the identity of the collection and the institution. But, of course, so much contemporary art is just about reevaluating modernism's aims, hierarchies, and mechanisms, shouldn't be difficult for the Phillips to find the right balance. So I'll continue to be hopeful.

And from his comment, it sounds like Tyler basically agrees with me, albeit with some very specific reservations about how they've been trying (and not necessarily succeeding) to manage the trick thus far.

3:52 PM  
Blogger Janice C. Cartier said...

You are so welcome. Ahh, a painter at heart. I like that.

Hm, well, sometimes restraints , or limitations can enhance creativity. It will be interesting to see what comes up on the schedule.

I am very curious what 'finely honed ideas", ( her quote) Dorothy Kosinski hopes to showcase as the new director. It sounds exciting.

I agree, contemporary shows for their own sake sounds, hm, empty... like so much noise, instead of resonance, but hopefully connections and depth are in store for us.

( I enjoyed your other articles too. I'll be back. Thanks.)

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that the wonderful Dorothy Kosinski is trying to make the Phillips Collection what it once was, the country's real first modern art museum. I think she has every intention of honoring the modernist tradition, but is looking to expand that curatorially into all media. Not just to attract young patrons, but also to be responsible to the museum's original mission, which was pretty cutting edge for its time.

6:58 PM  

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