Washington DC: Guston, the Phillips and a farmer’s market

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Phillips stairwell
Phillips Collection. Spiral staircase going up to the third floor in the new wing.

If I’d been to the Phillips Collection before it was so many years ago the mind reels. Thus it was a new museum for me to assay last Sunday on my day trip to Washington. I was initially interested in a temporary traveling exhibit they had, the Societe Anonyme, and I’ll tell you about that later. I found the museum to be a great small space with surprising depth. And given that it’s compared to the Barnes alot (private collection driven by an art enthusiast) the Phillips is an eye-opener. The works are housed in well-lit rooms. There are plenty of guards to tell you what you can and cannot photograph and the new addition appended to the old house — apparently used for theme exhibits (like the Societe Anonyme)– is elegant in an old-school-swanky kind of way (open spiral staircase going up to the third floor) etc. The place had breathing room which I’ve always felt the Barnes doesn’t. The Barnes, which I do love, is both over-stuffed with works and has rooms that, let’s be honest, are too small for comfortable viewing.

Philip Guston
Philip Guston, Untitled, 1980. acrylic on paper, Phillips Collection

One of the high points at the Phillips was seeing this small Philip Guston work on paper. The work was in the entry gallery to the Collection on the first floor and its neighbors in the space included a half-dozen Jacob Lawrence paintings from his Migration Series. Lawrence and Guston, who would have thought they’d work well together? But the works’ bold graphic sensibility (lots of black, simplified shapes) and clear, symbol-laden image-making made for a great neighborliness.

Jacob Lawrence
Jacob Lawrence, from The Migration of the Negro (1940-41), this one’s caption was about food being scarce due to the war.

Upstairs, the Phillips has more of the Migration series …although I didn’t spot any more Gustons.

Arthur Dove
Arthur Dove at the Phillips Collection

The Phillips was a great outing although it’s a big place and once I got through the theme exhibit I was pretty much on overload and so strolled rather quickly through the rest. The collection sprawls through the original building and the addition, and includes blockbuster works from Courbet, Delacroix and Daumier to works by Thomas Eakins and early or mid-20th Century works by Horace Pippin, Arthur Dove, Motherwell, Picasso, Rothko and DeKooning. I was surprised to see photography in the Phillips but they have a small but potent group on view (an acquisition from Joseph and Charlotte Lichtenberg) including works by Walker Evans, Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham.

Walker Evans
Walker Evans, Landowner, Moundville, AL, 1936.

The dark-panelled music room in which the old French masters reside, was originally a billiards room built by the Phillipses in an attempt to keep their two sons happy and at home. This is information from a docent who was explaining that the room wasn’t a ballroom or banquet room or music room originally.

Honore Daumier
Music room at the Phillips with the French masters. The room was set up for a concert that afternoon.

I took the subway from the Mall to Dupont Circle to get to the Phillips and it was surprisingly easy albeit involving a transfer from one line to another along the way. When I got above ground I found a farmer’s market set up in Dupont Circle and the number of Sunday brunch strollers and farmers’ market shoppers was a flash back to my days in Madison WI at the farmer’s market on the Square with its jumble of hippies, yuppies, power couples and students mingling au plein air over coffee in paper cups and an apple or bagel from a local vendor.

Dupont Circle
Washington Metro, Dupont Circle station

Awfully nice to find such ambiance in such an unexpected place. That’s it for this post. I’ll show a few pictures from the National Gallery in another post and get to that Society Anonyme too. If you want more pictures, see my flickr set.

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