Fellow Spotlight: Mykaela Brevard

In this series, we profile our 2019-20 Sherman Fairchild Fellows. As part of our institutional values and commitment to diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion, the Sherman Fairchild Fellowship is a comprehensive, yearlong paid program that includes hands-on experience, mentoring, and professional development. Over the summer, fellows gain experience in all facets of the museum, then in the fall and spring semesters, the fellows focus on projects of their interests.

Mykaela Brevard earned her BA in Visual Art and Design from North Carolina A&T State University. She is interested in learning about museum work across departments, especially how museums can benefit the community. Mykaela is a ceramicist and hopes to share her clay skills with the Phillips audience.

Why are you interested in working at a museum?
I became interested in working at a museum my senior year of undergrad. My mentor introduced a plethora of careers in the museum field (other than director and curator) and I instantly became intrigued. From then on, I began researching internships and fellowships that aligned with my need to explore all facets of the museum.

What brought you to The Phillips Collection?
What brought me to the Phillips was the possibility of doing what I mentioned above, learning about and gaining a bit of experience in different departments. So far so good.

Please tell us about your work at the Phillips over the summer.
Over the summer I worked with Makeba Clay, Chief Diversity Officer, and fellows Traka Lopez and Jordan Chambers to construct a variety of DEAI (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion) related workshops and toolkits, as well as participated in professional development sessions and museum visits.

What is your fall project and how did you choose it?
My project in the fall will be working at Phillips@THEARC with Monica Jones, Phillips@THEARC Program Coordinator, assisting in the planning and execution of programs, pop-ups, etc. at the museum’s satellite location in Southeast DC. I’m also in talks with teaming up with Donna Jonte who manages our Creative Aging program and a partner at THEARC to run a hand-building clay class. I chose it because I wanted to see what our satellite location was doing to benefit the community it is in, as well as being a part of that impact. I want to do the clay class because it’s my passion and I wanted to share the love with others.

What is your favorite space/painting/artist here?
My favorite work in the Phillips is technically not in the Phillips. It’s the mural Diocco (Contact) by Senegalese artists Muhsana Ali, Fodé Camara, Viyé Diba, and Piniang (Ibrahima Niang) on the back of the courtyard wall. I love love love the vibrant colors and the surrealist vibes I get from it.

If you were to describe the Phillips in one word, what would that word be?
Interesting.

What is a fun fact about you?
I’m a ceramicist 🙂

Phillips Flashback: Conceptual Artist Yuri Schwebler

Processing Archivist Juli Folk shares her findings in the Phillips Archives about Conceptual Artist Yuri Schwebler.

Since I began working as a processing archivist in The Phillips Collection Library and Archives this summer, one of the resources I access to learn more about the museum is our rich collection of oral histories, a documentation effort that began in 2004 and continues today. These transcripts are the result of hours of conversations between professional oral historians and The Phillips Collection directors, curators, exhibition designers, artists, and other staff. While reading the oral history with Bill Koberg, The Phillips Collection’s chief of installations who started as a museum assistant in 1971, I was struck by his passing mention of a familiar outdoor sculpture around the corner from the museum.

“Now that you’ve scratched my memory, there was a Yuri Schwebler [show at The Phillips Collection in 1973], and those were works that were designed for the space that were made out of slate and, I think, in some cases, glass on rails with pendulums. There’s an example of that, now,  on Q Street, around the corner, in front of a… house.”

If you’ve ever walked to The Phillips Collection from the Dupont Circle Metro station via Q Street NW, then you’ve probably seen it, too. The work, by conceptual artist Yuri Schwebler, sits in front of a muted green house on the north side of the street.

Sculpture by Yuri Schwebler. Photo: Juli Folk

Sculpture by Yuri Schwebler. Photo: Juli Folk

Schwebler, a well-known participant in the 1970s DC arts scene, was born on November 21, 1932, in Nazi-occupied Feketic, Yugoslavia. He immigrated to Delaware as a child, taking art lessons in high school and eventually attending Western Maryland College before being encouraged to pursue his art career in Maryland and DC. He is best known for ambitious works designed for specific sites and is associated with the Max Protetch gallery. The piece on Q Street NW is exemplary of the concepts Schwebler was exploring at this time, including geometry, balance, light, shadow, and natural processes.

Schwebler’s 1973 exhibit at The Phillips Collection, 2 as 3 sculptures, is an early exploration of themes that would pervade his career.

Exhibition Postcard Image courtesy of The Phillips Collection Archives

Exhibition Postcard. Image courtesy of The Phillips Collection Archives

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The exhibition brochure shows that the five works emphasize pendulums, plumb bobs, materials, and spatial balance. As Koberg noted, the pieces were designed specifically for the courtyard space.

Henry Allen, writing for The Washington Post Arts in 1973, called the show “sculpture in the tradition of the pyramids, not the Pieta—of alchemy rather than esthetics.” Allen goes on to describe that, “The five new works comprise: 12 big sheets of 1⁄4-inch plate glass, 11 aluminum I-beams, each with a small hole drilled in the center to hold a carpenters’ spirit level, 11 plumb bobs that dangle from 11 golden strings, and 26 turnbuckles to tighten 13 silvery wires.”

The Washington Post Review

The Washington Post Review

A 1981 essay by Lynda Roscoe Hartigan for an exhibition organized by The Hudson River Museum, The Studio: Sculpture by Yuri Schwebler, describes Schwebler’s works as sometimes temporary and sometimes permanent, constructed both indoors and outdoors, and exploring “geometric precision and modules to magical transformations and theatrical engagement, from small wall-oriented objects to projects of monumental proportions”.

Spatial drawings of geometric figures based on numerical values (as in both mathematics and alchemy, according to Schwebler) were refined on increasingly larger scales between 1973 and 1978. In five sculptures made in 1973 specifically for the garden of The Phillips Collection, Schwebler arranged in each work two sheets of plate glass to suggest equilateral triangles (“2 as 3”) resting on or under aluminum I-beams. The measure of each piece for balance and precision was taken in effect by carpenter’s spirit levels and plumb bobs on golden threads, while taut silver wires both secured the constructions and extended the image of drawing between points and planes in space. Industrial hardware and pristine glass were combined to reveal both structure and process. Catching light and elements in the space around them, each transparent variation acquired a certain poetry in harmony with its environment—a foil to formal crispness.

Other popular local works included filling the atrium of the Corcoran School of Art with pyramids and a series of “Magnetic North” installations around the District. In the winter of 1974, after years of planning, Schwebler created a sundial using the Washington Monument as its gnomon shifting against the carefully calculated pattern shoveled into fresh snowfall. Walter Cronkite reported for the CBS Evening News that the project required $24, six feet of snow, and a permit and plow from the National Park Service. When asked about why he made it, Schwebler replied, “You can actually see the Earth move, or feel it move, by watching that shadow.”

Again, Hartigan quotes Schwebler’s take on his work around DC.:

“Relating [is] what I’ve done in those pieces over the years rather than sculptures… around this town [Washington, DC], looking at sculpture that exists—like a general here and a horse and general there—[it] is always imposing on the space but… dealing with the structure of the space, and somehow showing something that I saw in the place, rather than really imposing myself.”

Sadly, Schwebler died by suicide at his home in Marlborough, New York, on March 3, 1990, at age 47, and his obituary appeared in The Washington Post. He was survived by his partner, Edith Sanford, as well as his mother, Eva Schwebler, and two sisters. Because so much of his work was temporary by design, many installations are no longer in existence; the piece on Q St. NW is thus an even more poignant reminder of his artistic efforts and local legacy.

The Phillips Collection Archives was established in 2006 to organize, preserve, and make available the museum’s records of enduring value that document the history of the museum, including its origins, activities, and events. The Archives serves as the museum’s institutional memory, and is especially rich in documentation of Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, the museum’s founders. The Archives also selectively acquires primary source material that relates to the history of the museum as well as collections that focus on artists whose work is in The Phillips Collection. The archives welcome staff as well as visiting researchers and scholars during public open hours as well as visits by appointment. Research conducted by staff and visiting scholars leads to exhibitions, exhibition catalogues, books, articles, theses, and doctoral dissertations.

 

Resources and Further Reading

Allen, Henry. “It Means Something But What?” The Washington Post, July 20, 1973.

Anderson, John. “The Missing Archive of Yuri Schwebler.” International Sculpture Center re:sculpt, January 25, 2017. https://blog.sculpture.org/2017/01/25/the-missing-archive-of-yuri-schwebler/.

Caldwell, John. “Art; Thought-provoking Work At The Hudson.” The New York Times, November 15, 1981. https://www.nytimes.com/1981/11/15/nyregion/art-thought-provoking-work-at-the-hudson.html

Frgey, Benjamin. “Phillips Collection: A Sculptural Side.” The Washington Star-News, July 20, 1973.

Hartigan, Linda. “The Studio: Sculpture.” Hudson River Museum Exhibition Catalog, 1981. https://books.google.com/books?id=7vbldwPxOfkC.

Meyer, Robinson. “On Google Maps, the Washington Monument Is a Sundial.” The Atlantic, May 23, 2014. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/05/on-google-maps-the-washington-monument-is-a-sun-dial/371555/.

Meredith. “DC Art History: Yuri Schwebler and the Largest Sundial.” Brightest Young Things,

March 9. 2010. https://brightestyoungthings.com/articles/dc-art-history-yuri-schwebler-and-the-largest-sundial.

Metcalfe, John. “Queen of Beverly Court.” Washington City Paper, July 2, 2004. https://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/article/13029304/queen-of-beverly-court

Moorhaus, Donita. Transcript of an oral history in The Phillips Collection Oral History Program: Interview with Bill Koberg, The Phillips Collection Library and Archives, 2010. http://library.phillipscollection.org:8080/#section=resource&resourceid=257980

Pearson, Richard. “Yuri Schwebler, D.C. Artist in 1970s, Dies.” The Washington Post, March 5, 1990. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1990/03/05/yuri-schwebler-dc-artist-in-1970s-dies/f1626044-8a11-4d06-8de6-1da77b08bdad/.

Richard, Paul. “Phillips: A Look at the Locals.” The Washington Post, September 15, 1973.

Seadler, Dee. “ART: Schwebler Through the Looking Glass.” Memo: Washington’s Comprehensive Entertainment Magazine. August 19-September 1, 1973, p. 14.

Reflecting on The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement recently closed and staff and visitors alike are still thinking about the continuing impact of the artwork. Museum Assistant Jeff Whitelow reflects on his experience in the exhibition and his observations of visitors, and we share some messages from our visitors. Thank you to every that visited this important exhibition.

Effective art, exhibits, curating, and programming get a response. It encourages discussion, thinking, and contemplation. It can influence how you see things, and that’s something you can take with you after you leave. “How is that art? Why is that here? Where is the label? What does it mean?” These were some of the questions visitors were asking in the galleries of The Warmth Of Other Suns. It was unique in that it encompassed three floors of gallery space and also displayed a lot of video work. The exhibit didn’t just take viewers to other suns, other worlds as an escape, but helped people take a better look at the one world we live in and also to look at ourselves—where we have come from as well as where we are going.

As the grandson of those who participated in the Great Migration from the north to the south I felt a sense of inclusion that was unique to this experience. The exhibit caused people to respond to it during their visit but also raised questions with no easy answers that made people think after they left the building. One visitor from Ukraine, when informed about migrants drowning at sea, asked when this happened as if it was one isolated event. I told her this is an ongoing situation happening right now. She was shocked. During a panel discussion, I found out that an acquaintance was a refugee when she spoke from the stage in the auditorium and told her story.

Some patrons said, “Where is Rothko? We only want to see Rothko.” or “Direct me to the Boating Party/the Impressionists please.” But out of curiosity and because some works in the collection were included in the exhibition, some visitors who did not initially intend to see the show did so anyway, and were moved by the experience. It wasn’t unusual for visitors who liked the show to come see it more than once. A number of visitors commented on how those in government who make policy should definitely see this one. Several people were moved to tears in seeing the works. But at the same time, during a question and answer session of a panel discussion, someone called the show “refugee porn.” From my observation, there was more diversity in attendees as well as a slightly younger demographic than usual in our galleries. Some coworkers experienced sensory overload in the exhibition. Others, including myself, came back for the last day of the exhibit on their day off. Art can truly influence how you see things, and you can take it home with you sometimes without even realizing it.

—Jeff Whitelow, Museum Assistant

Next to The Warmth of Other Suns galleries, visitors had the opportunity to share their thoughts about the exhibition. Here are some of their messages.