Director’s Desk: Participatory Art and New Acquisitions

Curator at Large Klaus Ottmann engages with Roter Gesang (Red Song) by Franz Erhard Walther. Photo: Dorothy Kosinski

Curator at Large Klaus Ottmann demonstrates the participatory qualities of a Franz Erhard Walther sculpture, Roter Gesang (Red Song), at an Arts Committee meeting this week. Walther (born in Fulda, Germany in 1939) produces minimalist sculptures, often in brilliant primary colors, out of ordinary heavy canvas, that seem like soft versions of minimalist compositions. This will look brilliant near our Rothko Room.  It also harmonizes with another new acquisition, Wolfgang Laib’s wax room, in which the visitor enters to appreciate the beautiful aroma, the rich surface, and the embracing small space. Our acquisitions meeting was a heady affair with the approval of many new works from photographs by Eugène Atget, to a painting by Al Held, a painting by Walter Dahn,  and works by Helen Torr, to mention only a few.

What’s in a Name? Van Gogh Edition

Left: Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1949. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy), 1889. Oil on fabric, 28 7/8 x 36 1/8 in. The Cleveland Museum of Art. Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1947.

Left: Vincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 x 36 1/2 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Acquired 1949. Right: Vincent van Gogh, The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy), 1889. Oil on fabric, 28 7/8 x 36 1/8 in. The Cleveland Museum of Art. Gift of the Hanna Fund, 1947.

Van Gogh stated in a letter to his brother Theo that when working from nature “one catches the true and the essential.” He painted The Large Plane Trees outdoors during his stay at a mental institution in Saint-Remy. He observed a row of plane trees (closely related to the American sycamore) during a trip into the nearby village, and quickly painted them to capture the changing autumnal colors. The repetition, The Road Menders, was completed later, in the studio.

Van Gogh emphasized different elements in the two works. Their titles indicate some of the differences. Why do you think each painting has the name it has? As you observe the two works, what similarities do you notice? What differences? What might the variations in style tell you about van Gogh’s process of working from nature versus working in the studio?

Happy First Snow, DC

Minor White_Dock in Snow

Minor White, Dock in Snow, 1971. Gelatin silver print, 10 3/4 x 13 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC. Gift of the Phillips Contemporaries, 2006

Happy first snow of the year to all of our DC, Maryland, and Virginia neighbors! It may have been short-lived, but it reinforced the holiday cheer that’s been building.