Sneak Peek: Van Gogh Repetitions, Five Months Out

View of chief curator Eliza Rathbone's wall, with images from this fall's Van Gogh Repetition exhibition and catalogue. Photo: Liza Key Strelka

View of Chief Curator Eliza Rathbone’s office wall, with images from this fall’s Van Gogh Repetitions exhibition and catalogue. Photo: Liza Key Strelka

Exhibitions at the Phillips are years in the making. Our curators often spend at least 2-3 years researching, compiling checklists, locating artwork, collaborating with other museums and venues, visiting and writing to potential lenders, and writing catalogue text. During that time, they immerse themselves in the exhibition’s subject matter. Oftentimes, their offices become transformed by their work: stacks of reference catalogues piled high, drafts of loan letters and checklists abound, and the images of artworks seem to magically appear on their walls. For this fall’s Van Gogh Repetitions exhibition and its accompanying catalogue, Chief Curator Eliza Rathbone printed images of all the “repetitions” we will be featuring in the show and grouped them on one of her office walls, as seen in the image at left. She was able to visualize the similarities and differences between paintings of the same subject matter as she worked on her catalogue entries and began thinking about the exhibition’s layout.

Once the preliminary work is complete, the artworks are secured, and the catalogue text is off to the publisher, the real fun begins. And by “fun”, I mean playing with miniature-sized “maquettes” of the paintings in the show to determine  exhibition design and layout. These small, to-scale images combined with a scaled model of our exhibition spaces allow the curator to visualize gallery layouts and groupings before the works arrive in-house, making for a smoother and more efficient installation process. Not surprisingly, it’s also much safer moving around small cardboard rectangles than priceless paintings.

maquettes on a table with hand

Eliza Rathbone laying out maquettes of works that will be featured in Van Gogh Repetitions. Photo: Liza Key Strelka

Recently Eliza, Head of Conservation Elizabeth Steele, and I sat down to begin shaping the design and visitor flow of the van Gogh exhibition in preparation for a meeting with our exhibition designer. Here’s a sneak peek of some of the works that will grace our walls beginning October 12.  Stay tuned for more “sneak peeks” as our design progresses, and we get closer to opening day. We’re looking forward to sharing the real paintings and works on paper with you this fall!

Maquettes of van Gogh paintings

Maquettes of van Gogh paintings. Photo: Liza Key Strelka

My Own “Spring Break”: New Photography Gifts at the Phillips

View of new photography installation at the Phillips. Photo: Joshua Navarro

View of new photography installation at the Phillips. Photo: Joshua Navarro

I, for one, have cherry blossom fatigue. As a D.C. resident for the past ten years, I welcome spring with open arms but have never understood all the hype behind the blossom-mania that overtakes D.C. in March and April. Forget cherry blossoms! Give me a Manhattan street view, circa 1935, or a carefully composed photograph of an oil field worker spooling cables, or a portrait of Marcel Duchamp standing behind one of his complex installations–all in black and white. Thankfully, the blossom season has waned (as have my allergies!), and the Phillips has the remedy to my too-much-spring fever. A new installation of recent and promised gifts to the collection proves that there’s nothing dull or lifeless about black and white photography. Associate Curator for Research Susan Behrends Frank created a dynamic installation in a gallery on the first floor of our Sant building, displaying photographs that range in date from the 1930s to the 1970s and featuring portraits, landscapes, scenes from American life, and photographic experimentations with light and movement.

©Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Berenice Abbott, Under the “El” Lower East Side, New York, c. 1935. Gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 in. Gift of Lisa Finn, 2012 © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics, Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Highlights include photography of life in New York City, such as Berenice Abbott’s Under the “El” Lower East Side, New York (c. 1935) seen above, along with beautiful, gritty photographs of Harlem in the 1960s in Bruce Davidson’s East 100th Street Series. Davidson’s eye for capturing the pulse of a time and place is also apparent in photographs from his Los Angeles Series. Because nothing says “L.A.” like people in their cars, am I right?

women in car

Installation view of Bruce Davidson, Looking through car window at white car with four women, Los Angeles Series, 1964. Gelatin silver print,11 x 14 in. Promised gift of Saul Levi. Photo: Joshua Navarro

Before Instagram made us all amateur photographers, there was Gjon Mili, a self-taught pioneer in the use of new photographic technology. Mili was one of the first to use electronic flash and stroboscopic light to create photographs that capture a sequence of actions in just one exposure. Many of his notable images, such as Multiple image of little boy running (1941) reveal movement often too rapid or complex for the naked eye to discern.

Installation shot of Mili's Multiple Image of little boy running, 1941  Photo: Liza Key Strelka

Installation view of Mili’s Multiple Image of little boy running, 1941. Photo: Liza Key Strelka

The world of blue-collar vocations is elevated to new heights in the photographs of Esther Bubley and Alfred Eisenstadt. In the photo below, Bubley’s lens seems to simply capture a worker absorbed in his duties, but her eye for the abstract qualities of light, shadow, and machinery provides her composition with a modern, almost painterly feel.

Esther Bubley Untitled (Workman), oil field, man with wire/cable spool signaling to his helper on the derrick, 1945 Gelatin silver print, 13 1/8 x 10 ¼ inches, Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

Esther Bubley, Untitled (Workman), oil field, man with wire/cable spool signaling to his helper on the derrick, 1945. Gelatin silver print, 13 1/8 x 10 1/4 in. Gift of Cam and Wanda Garner, 2012

And, finally, one of my personal favorites, an Arnold Newman photograph of Marcel Duchamp standing behind one of his pieces from 1942, probably dreaming up his next mind-boggling installation and playing the perfect role of “aloof artist genius:”

Arnold Newman, Marcel Duchamp, 1942, Gelatin silver print, Gift of Lisa Finn, 2012. © Arnold Newman Properties/Getty Images 2013

Arnold Newman, Marcel Duchamp, 1942. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Lisa Finn, 2012. © Arnold Newman Properties/Getty Images 2013

So come on in and soak up some non-spring scenery. The new installation, on view through the end of May, provides a respite from the frantic tourist season, high pollen count, and the (slowly) climbing temperatures.

The International Effort to Bring Charles to Washington

Henri Evenepoel, Charles in a Striped Jersey, ca. 1898.

Henri Evenepoel, Charles in a Striped Jersey, ca. 1898. Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 19 5/8 in. (73 x 50 cm.) Fondation Roi Baudouin, Brussels. A gift from Anne and André Leysen.

Unbeknownst to members of the press as they streamed into the beautiful Snapshot galleries for a preview on February 1, a star work in the exhibition had finally been placed on the wall just moments before.

If you’ve walked through Snapshot, chances are that for you, as for the majority of other viewers, it’s your first encounter with Belgian artist Henri Evenepoel‘s paintings and photographs. The Phillips Collection is the first museum in the United States to present his works, despite his renown in his home country. Among self-portraits and loving images of his family, you may have discovered Charles in a Striped Jersey.

In the exhibition’s early planning stages, curators instantly recognized this work as a masterpiece and decided it was integral in introducing Evenepoel’s work to American audiences. Phillips Chief Curator Eliza Rathbone, who wrote the catalogue essay on Evenepoel, knew she had to track down the painting and secure it for the show.

After research and a visit to Belgium to seek help from the Patrick Derom Gallery, the piece was located–a promised gift from a private family to the King Baudouin Foundation collection in Brussels. Eliza sent a loan request to the family and, after much back and forth, they agreed to lend the painting, but only to the exhibition’s first venue, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam for the beloved work had a busy schedule. After the showing at the Van Gogh Museum, it was due to move quickly to an exhibition in Brussels organized by the King Baudouin Foundation where it would be on view until just one week before Snapshot opened. Not much time for a transatlantic journey . . .

Knowing how important the painting was to the exhibition, Eliza mounted a campaign to convince the owners to lend the piece anyway. Eliza pled her case at the Belgian Embassy, to both the ambassador and cultural attaché. She made it clear to the painting’s owners and  to the King Baudouin Foundation that we would accept Charles no matter how late he arrived. Eliza’s tenacity paid off, and with great support from both the Belgian Embassy and the lenders, the painting was finally cleared to make its first journey across the Atlantic. Charles in a Striped Jersey arrived the day before the exhibition’s press preview, and after a mandatory 24 hour respite in its crate, was installed just in time.

Since its installation, Charles in a Striped Jersey has been a star attraction and has not only introduced viewers to the talents of a previously unknown artist, but demonstrated the importance of The Phillips Collection’s relationships with embassies and international organizations. The family that loaned the painting visited us to see the work hung in the exhibition and were extremely proud to play a role in introducing Evenepoel to Washington, D.C. The Embassy of Belgium hosted a dinner at the Ambassador’s residence to celebrate the introduction of this extraordinary Belgian artist to a U.S. audience.

The Phillips Collection is extremely appreciative of all those who made such a beautiful, important loan possible. We are proud to be the first and possibly only venue to display Evenepoel’s masterpiece Charles in a Striped Jersey in the U.S.