Friday, May 21, 2010

The Phillips Collection, D.C.

While in Washington D.C., I made the trek past Dupont Circle to the Phillips Collection. It's a little hard to find since it's located a bit off Massachusetts Ave. I made a special effort to go there this time, since I just have not visited this museum before, usually making the rounds of the Renwick, Freer and any one of the other Smithsonian museums. After that visit, the Phillips will go to the top of my list. What a great place to spend the day.

The collection is unique.
There is a nice mix of early and later modern work and a range of European and American pieces. I discovered a couple of artists I had never seen before and who have done intriguing work. I plan to research more on both when I get home. There's a nice mix of European impressionist paintings--some w
ell known works by Renoir, Monet, Picasso, and of course, my favorite, Gauguin. I'm always amazed at how his colors just glow--something you can't see in a book. The jewel of the collection must be Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party" which is huge and takes up one entire wall of an exhibit room.

**Scale is something you never get in books. The Mona Lisa is surprisingly small. The Night Watch by Rembrandt is nearly life size.**
The collection is not arranged according to say, European impressionism, the pictures are hung in each room as they relate to each other.

For example, I walked into one room and realized immediately that it was all about negative space. I was totally intrigued by it and returned to look again before leaving. This work by Francis Bacon (Not my favorite painter until I saw this) was massive. A photo just cannot do it justice. One square foot of this painting is just as interesting as the whole. It has very subtle brushstrokes and beautiful overlay of pigment. It is so mysterious, I could live with it and study it daily.

The other great thing about the Phillips is you can actually walk up and get close to a painting--up to two feet, they request--to enjoy a really close look at the work. Photos without flash are also permitted in the permanent collection. Unfortunately, my camera battery gave up the ghost. And I did not trust my cell phone's camera to suppress the flash.

I was lucky enough to walk into the main living room of the house (The Phillips is a museum building joined to a Greek Revival residence which has been turned into display spaces and offices) while a concert rehearsal was going on. The singer had a beautiful operatic voice and was accompanied by a string quartet. A folding chair on the side of the room was empty and I immediately jumped into it to sit behind the first violin and be with about 15 feet of the singer. What a rare treat! The music was a selection I'm guessing from a Spanish composition and during a break for discussion of some fragment or other, the musicians were talking to each other in Spanish (singer and 2 violins) and either a Scandinavian or Russian dialect between the viola and cello players. They were preparing for a concert that evening. I love rehearsals almost as much as performances because you can hear them taking apart and analyzing some phrase of the music. I happily stayed glued to my seat until they finally broke to rest before the performance.

The Phillips has a nice small cafe. The food is a selection of cold sandwiches, salads and pastries. The room has been decorated by a wall treatment called "Flurries", a cream-colored wallpaper with transparent apricot colored glassy half-bubbles or spheres placed in interesting patters over the surface and extending over the glass windows and doors. A video showing the process of installing the wall treatment, along with two other videos of installations in the museum are shown in a continuous loop for you to watch while you enjoy the food. The Flurries video:

Other work: The Migration Series - wonderful abstractly executed narrative series by Jacob Lawrence.

And this little jewel by Christenberry.

1 comment:

Schnee said... just missed seeing the Georgia O'Keefe exhibit. I made a point of going in March. The exhibit ended May 9th and was primarily her abstract work. But I agree, the Phillips is one of my favorite art museums in the area.