From the Phillips family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving! Here are some of our favorite artist portrayals of family from the collection.
This article, written by collector Anita Reiner’s daughter, Renee Reiner, was first published by Christie’s in May 2014 and is reposted here in three parts in conjunction with the exhibition A Tribute To Anita Reiner, on view at the Phillips through Jan. 4, 2015. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. We welcome others to share their own anecdotes about this legendary collector or contribute comments about the installation honoring her.
In 1971, we moved to a new house, built by our dad. It was designed with Anita’s passion in mind, allowing her to showcase her growing collection: It featured white walls, high ceilings, bright light. With this new space, Anita was off to the galleries at an ever-increasing pace. As her skill and knowledge developed, she became even more focused. The contemporary art world drew her in; there was a deep respect growing between her and her gallery-owner colleagues. Relationships with Leo Castelli, Ivan Karp, Anina Nosei, Arnie Glimcher, Jack Shainman, Mary Boone and others became long-lasting friendships.
With her passion came a vibrancy and sense of purpose. Our mom was never more alive and engaged than when a new piece of art was delivered to the house. In truth, her drive had more than an intensity to it; Mom had a fun-loving, impish side as well. Collecting art for her became integral to her sense of self and she had a lot of fun pursuing this passion. Her life philosophy, according to friend Wendy, was summed up in the words on two of her favorite t-shirts: “I am a conceptual work of art.” and “I am not boring!” She was, says Wendy, truly one of a kind.
We, her family, came to respect mom’s keen eye and visual acuity. Professionals in the art world respected this as well, seeking out her thoughts and her opinions. She was immersed in art and artists, primarily in New York, but also in other cities in the US and around the world. She and dad were regulars at the Basel Art Fair in Switzerland, the Venice Biennale, Documenta and Miami Basel. They loved to explore new places and Anita would always seek out the edgy, controversial, or revolutionary artists of the places they visited, whether it was in China, India, Burma, Fiji, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Germany, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, London, or France. No matter the location, she would walk into a gallery exhibit, see a dozen pieces of art, and, within a minute or two, would gravitate to the most compelling piece in the show and say, “put it on reserve.” Then she’d sleep on it. If the piece was still with her in the morning, she knew she had to buy it. She rarely had regrets over her spontaneity; however, she was on occasion sorry when she left a piece behind.
Around 2000, Anita had our dad build a new room on the house: she needed more space for her growing collection. Always thinking about art, but not necessarily offering all pertinent information up front, Mom had purchased a set of oversized Jorgé Pardo doors (her friend Steve Shane remarked that they looked like sperm). The opening to this new room needed to be designed and built to accommodate them. We wondered at the time if Dad knew she’d been counting on a new room all along.
Anita rarely sold pieces from her collection. If she fell out of love with a work, it was because her taste was growing and shifting, or because she needed space for something new. She always had her finger directly on the pulse of what was good, valuable, important. It was obvious that her family members were not the only ones impressed with her skill and vast knowledge; plenty of folks in the contemporary art world in the US and abroad enjoyed her expertise and her company and she had long lasting friendships with fellow art aficionados from around the world.
The Phillips is currently hosting the exhibition Art and Wellness: Creative Aging. The display features work from an ongoing collaboration between The Phillips Collection and Iona Senior Services. The program encourages older adults (many of whom suffer from chronic illness, including Alzheimer’s or related dementia), along with their families and caregivers, to make connections and access personal experiences and long-term memories through gallery conversations and hands-on art therapy.
Participants in the program looked at Walt Kuhn’s Plumes together. The painting prompted a group dialogue about how portraits convey mood and composition, and how they can evoke personal memories. Individuals described the figure as “pensive,” “isolated,” “aloof,” and “not happy.” On participant, Duke, said, “She seems rather stiff and cold.” Another group member spoke of a “dichotomy” in the composition. She stated, “The feathers she wears on her head…there’s such an opposite appearance between what she’s wearing and how she presents herself.”
In the art therapy studio, Duke was drawn to Kuhn’s use of portraiture. He reminisced about his time drawing on the Atlantic City boardwalk with charcoal, and how he would identify women that inspired his work. He was eager to replicate the image: “It’s hard to go back to drawing after so many years. You see, I used to draw people’s portraits. But over time I’ve grown comfortable with it again.” Duke’s experience replicating Plumes gave him the confidence to continue to immerse himself in the artistic process, and reinvigorated his love for portraiture.