Phillips History on View: Marjorie

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Marjorie Phillips in 1969

One of my favorite photographs in the archives is of Marjorie Phillips in 1969 when she was Director of the museum installing a Hundertwasser exhibition alongside Jim McLaughlin, the museum’s curator. She stands in a room, framed by doorway, giving the viewer a glimpse into the workings of installing exhibitions and putting her front and center, instrumental to the process. As Marjorie looks pensively at the unhung pieces, her image is reflected in the glass of one of the works. The hints of color expose the transition between Duncan and Marjorie’s directorship, with his death preceding the Hundertwasser exhibition by three years.

Marjorie was responsible for many milestones in The Phillips Collection’s history. She opened the museum’s first show of outdoor sculpture after putting together a landmark show, “Birds in Contemporary Art” in 1966. In the catalog for it she writes “in no half century has there been such a diversity of concepts, of materials used, degrees of abstraction or realism experimented with!” Marjorie was a confident director with an artist’s eye who was formative for the museum.

Maya Simkin, Library Intern

Phillips History on View: An Introduction

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Head Librarian Karen Schneider taking notes on manuscripts up for consideration in the exhibition.

The first month of my internship at The Phillips Collection was spent working with the Library and Archives to organize a salon-style installation about the life of Duncan Phillips and the history of the collection. Albeit a daunting task, this project is exactly what I needed. It provided a necessary background on the museum and put the collection into context. While unearthing old photographs, correspondence, and manuscripts, I’ve slowly absorbed the foundation of the museum while simultaneously learning how exhibitions are organized. I’ve learned interesting stories, seen great photographs, and learned the art ideologies and artist relationships behind the museum. I’m looking forward to sharing them over the next few weeks here on the blog!

Maya Simkin, Library Intern

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Head Librarian Karen Schneider determining an order for our selected photographs from the archives

Phillips Flashback: Neither Rain Nor Sleet…

As I worked on an ongoing project to organize Duncan Phillips’s correspondence, I was surprised to see many letters that were sent and received on subsequent days as well as on the same day. Phillips was a prolific letter writer who probably wrote at least ten letters a day, primarily to artists and art galleries.

Phillips’s correspondence with photographer, gallery dealer, and advocate for modern art Alfred Stieglitz began in 1926 and continued until 1946, the year of Stieglitz’s death.

On March 4, 1926, Stieglitz wrote a letter to Phillips in which he spoke about his wife Georgia O’Keeffe’s recent visit to The Phillips Collection. He stated, “She returned from Washington full of rare enthusiasm. She thoroughly enjoyed every moment with you and Mrs. Phillips and the pictures. She tells every one worthwhile what splendid work you are doing. Your Courbets and Daumier, the Renoir, El Greco she tells me about…She is painting and doing incredible work.”

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Letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Duncan Phillips, March 4, 1926 (page 1)

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Letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Duncan Phillips, March 4, 1926 (page 2)

Phillips replied on the same day: “It was a great pleasure to show our treasures to Georgia O’Keefe and to know her better. She is certainly a rare person and my wife and I were delighted to discover in her so sensitive and generous a responce to many different kinds of artistic expression. We were only sorry you were not with her but hope you can see the Collection very soon.”

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Letter from Duncan Phillips to Alfred Stieglitz, March 4, 926

According to the 1922 Annual Report of the Postmaster General, smaller cities averaged three to four mail deliveries per day, and larger cities received deliveries three to seven times a day. We can only dream of such an efficient mail service today.