Lending Lotte: Loan Process and Popular Requests at the Phillips

As any curator knows, the first important step in organizing an exhibition is creating and securing a checklist of works that perfectly illustrate the theme of your show, often from many collections in the US and abroad. At the Phillips, we receive dozens of requests for objects in our collection each year, and we do our best to accommodate as many requests as possible while maintaining the integrity and security of our works. Lending our beloved collection to venues around the world increases the Phillips’s exposure to populations not familiar with our institution and allows us to form and strengthen relationships with museums and galleries.

When we receive a request for an object in our collection, our conservators first check the condition of the object to assess if it is stable enough to travel. They also factor in how frequently the work has traveled recently and condition reports from requesting museums (which indicate security measures, gallery conditions, light levels, etc.). Once the work has been OK’d to travel by our conservators, the request is then discussed in a quarterly meeting with the director, curators, and registrars to see if the request conflicts with any upcoming exhibition or installation plans. If the work is approved to travel during that meeting but has a high insurance value, it will then go to the board for approval. Otherwise, once the work has been cleared by curatorial, preparations begin for its travel.

Over the past few years, a few works have become very popular and have racked up quite the number of frequent flier miles and requests. It may come as no surprise that we receive regular requests for our Luncheon of the Boating Party, van Goghs, Bonnards, and O’Keeffes, but some popular pieces may surprise you.

While many of our masterpieces have accumulated stamps in their passports the past few years, few have traveled or been requested more than the current “it” girl of The Phillips Collection, Oskar Kokoschka’s Portrait of Lotte Franzos from 1909.

Oskar Kokoschka, Portrait of Lotte Franzos, 1909. Oil on canvas. 45 1/4 x 31 1/4 in. (114.9 x 79.4 cm). Acquired 1941.

Oskar Kokoschka, Portrait of Lotte Franzos, 1909. Oil on canvas. 45 1/4 x 31 1/4 in. (114.9 x 79.4 cm). Acquired 1941.

Number of requests since 2000: 22

Recent travels:

  • National Gallery, London, “The Portrait in Vienna, 1900,” October 9, 2013-January 12, 2014
  • Neue Gallery, New York, “Vienna 1900: Style and Identity,” February 3, 2011 – June 27, 2011
  • Wellcome Collection, London, “Madness and Modernity: Mental Illness and the Visual Arts in Vienna 1900,” April 1—July 14, 2009
  • Reunion des Musées Nationaux (Grand Palais/Musée d’Orsay), Paris, “Klimt, Kokoschka, Moser, Schiele,” September 1, 2005—February 1, 2006

I recently had the privilege of escorting Lotte back from an exhibition in London this past January, and even though her expression may read a bit world weary (jet lag can be brutal), I can assure you all the travel has not diminished her vibrant beauty. Due to the large number of requests she’s getting, it’s safe to assume that this evocative portrait has risen to a new prominence in Kokoschka’s oeuvre.

On the subject of traveling across international borders: most seasoned travelers know that when flying between countries, there are certain food products that will get held up at customs. Specifically, in many cases, cured meats. However, painted depictions of such contraband are not subject to those rules. Which brings me to….

Paul Gauguin, The Ham, 1889. Oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 22 3/4 in. Acquired 1951.

Paul Gauguin, The Ham, 1889. Oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 22 3/4 in. Acquired 1951.

Paul Gauguin‘s The Ham, recently back from a Gauguin retrospective in Korea. What more can one say about The Ham that hasn’t already been said here, here, and here? It’s….a ham. Albeit, a gorgeously depicted one. This work, already a favorite amongst Phillips staff, has become quite popular with 11 requests from international and domestic institutions in the past 10 years. I guess you could say other museums are hungry for a piece of this delicious masterpiece! Apologies, but I had to say it.

Migrating to MoMA: Jacob Lawrence Panel Discussion

Phillips curator Elsa Smithgall discusses Lawrence's Migration Series with panelists in the MoMA conservation studio. Photo: Liza Key Strelka

Phillips curator Elsa Smithgall discusses the MoMA panels of Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series with scholars in the MoMA conservation studio. Photo: Liza Key Strelka

Last week, Curator Elsa Smithgall and I traveled to New York for a panel discussion at the Museum of Modern Art on Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series in preparation for a collaborative exhibition between the Phillips and MoMA in 2015 and 2016. The exhibition will reunite the 30 panels from the Phillips’ collection with the 30 panels in MoMA’s collection, and will open at MoMA in 2015 and then travel to the Phillips in 2016.

MoMA Lawrence 1

Curators, conservators, and scholars view MoMA’s Migrations Series panels. Photo: Liza Key Strelka

The panel included 15 participants from various fields of study and expertise, including art history, philosophy, poetry and literature, American history, African-American culture, fine art, film making, music, and culinary arts. Participants spent the day discussing the continued relevance of Lawrence’s work and ways to approach the series from new viewpoints and disciplines. This discussion and subsequent meetings will shape the content and programming of each institution’s exhibition, providing a fresh, contemporary context for this seminal artwork.

Breaking through the Facade: What the Hands Reveal in Lydia Panas’s “Figs”

Happy Friday! We’ve enjoyed delving deeper into some of the beautiful images on display in Shaping a Modern Identity: Portraits from the Joseph and Charlotte Lichtenberg Collection during our 5-day celebration of  FotoWeekDC. The last photograph we’re featuring is Lydia Panas‘s Figs, which also happens to be the most recent photograph on display in the installation.

Lydia Panas, Figs, 2010. Chromogenic print. Joseph and Charlotte Lichtenberg Collection. © Lydia Panas

Lydia Panas, Figs, 2010. Chromogenic print. Joseph and Charlotte Lichtenberg Collection. © Lydia Panas

For Panas – a contemporary portrait photographer working in southeastern Pennsylvania – figs provide both a title for her 2010 work as well as a unique means for exploring the internal through portraiture. In her series Falling From Grace… from which this work comes, the subjects are placed in front of a black background and provided with various foods which they are instructed to hold in their hands. Panas believes that people’s extremities often reveal what a face may conceal. Her work is drawn from the idea that the things we try to hide still reveal themselves somehow. This seems most evident in the Falling from Grace… series, where the expressions are particularly unclear but the hands and positioning of food objects seem to give the viewer cues as to the sitter’s emotional state.

In Figs, the young woman sits with her hands holding several figs close to her chest. Her light skin and hair provide a stark contrast with the black background. Panas cites Old Dutch portraiture and early religious works, where the faces are set against a dark black background, as an important influence. The black background allows the viewer to zoom in directly on the sitter, her pose, and her expression. The woman’s expression is searching, slightly tentative, and her hands carefully cradle the figs and almost completely obscure them from the viewer’s sight, as if she is protecting them. There is an underlying intimacy between the subject and photographer in this and all the other photographs in the series, as if Panas has been able to extract each sitter’s vulnerability, breaking through the unreliability of facial expressions and using their subconscious movements and poses with the food objects to reveal their true emotions and thoughts.