Bodies in Space

When Antony Gormley: Drawing Space opens at the Phillips on June 2, it joins an international roster of current shows of the artist’s work. A couple weeks ago, Vessel opened at Galleria Continua in San Gimignano, Italy. Just days before, Horizon Field Hamburg had opened at Deichtorhallen Hamburg. Antony Gormley said that Horizon Field was developed “always with the idea that we wanted to make an instrument that would allow people a way to experience themselves, their bodies in space, as well as the architecture, in a new way.” This statement resonates with much of his work, including the drawings we’ll show at the Phillips this summer. Hear more about his thought process in this brief video:

So what is Horizon Field? And what does it look like? Deichtorhallen has shared a video and slideshow documenting this massive project’s construction. But it’s the experience that counts, so we’re excited that visitors have posted photos and videos of the space, and their responses to it, on the project blog and will continue to do so (we hope!) until the installation closes September 9.

Everyone dreams of home improvement

Duncan Phillips. Sketch for museum building, from Journal B, c. 1923. From The Phillips Collection Archives.

In The New York Times Sunday, March 27, Nicholai Ouroussoff  wrote, “Over the past 15 or so years, some of the most original and idiosyncratic art institutions in the country [...] have embarked on major expansions to modernize [...], significantly transforming their identities.” The three museums he examines were all, like the Phillips, created by an individual collector with a distinct vision. Ouroussoff goes on to say that many of these building projects will result in a loss of character and create a regrettable sense of the “corporate.” It is hard to think of a museum that hasn’t undertaken a major building project, or at least considered it, The Phillips Collection included.

In 1923, Duncan Phillips made a sketch of his ideal museum building in which to house his growing collection and welcome visitors. Having opened his red brick and brownstone home as a gallery, even as his family still lived there, his drawing reflects a grand plan, a structure much more like the classical-style exhibition spaces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Phillips’s dream museum would include a garden with arched cloister, a theater, a terrace over looking the city, and a majestic corridor to feature the monumental works of Augustus Vincent Tack. The site he selected was a short walk up Connecticut Avenue from his 21st Street house (space currently occupied by the Washington Hilton.) But after reflecting on his goals for the Phillips Memorial Gallery, as it was then called, he decided that the domestic setting was essential for encouraging contemplation, slow looking, and dialogs between seemingly disparate works. (Financial climates also played a part in his decision.)

Our museum has expanded in many ways, both during Phillips’s lifetime and since. With the relocation of the Barnes Foundation, an institution thought to be intrinsically bound to not only its location but its original installation, I think it has been shown that expanding and building are simply facts of life for museums.