Phillips Flashback: A Man of Many Lists

list of works_Duncan Phillips

From The Phillips Collection Archives

Museum founder Duncan Phillips loved making lists. He often created lists that ranked individual works of art. In a document dated 1919-1920, prior to the museum’s opening in 1921, he put Claude Monet in third place and American painter John Twachtman in first on a list titled “15 Best Purchases of 1918-19.”

On the back of an important letter to Thomas Bower (below) about the late art collector John Quinn, Phillips scrawled a list that included baby dresses, laundry, roast chicken, chicken aspic jelly, and ice cream.

shopping list_Duncan Phillips

From The Phillips Collection Archives

Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Good World”

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Letter from Georgia O’Keeffe to Marjorie Phillips, 1975

A letter from Georgia O’Keeffe to Marjorie Phillips, wife of Duncan Phillips and a painter in her own right, has a postscript that reads, “It was so good to see you here in what I call ‘my good world.'” Dated 1975, this letter reveals that Marjorie Phillips visited O’Keeffe in her New Mexico home, a previously undocumented journey. In 1949, O’Keeffe paid tribute to the long friendship between her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, and Duncan Phillips by willing a series of Stieglitz’s photographs to The Phillips Collection. The 19 photographs, called the Equivalents, feature views of cloud-filled skies. Stieglitz’s goal was to evoke an emotional state through each image. By not including any reference points, including the horizon line, Stieglitz allowed viewers to focus on the abstract qualities of the cloud formations.

Mining the Archives

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(Left) Vesna Pavlović, Untitled (Swiss Peasant art exhibition, 1957.4), (2014). Courtesy of the artist and G Fine Art (Right) Vesna Pavlović, Installation view of Untitled (Annex, Giacometti exhibition, 1963), 2014. Photo: Mica Scalin

Intersections artist Vesna Pavlović, whose installation Illuminated Archive opened at the Phillips last week, mined the museum’s archival materials to create new works exploring the idea of transparency. The works above feature photographic negatives from exhibitions throughout Phillips history, altered in a variety of ways and to varying degrees.

What I love most about the work at right, a 35-foot curtain made up of digitally manipulated negatives from a 1963 Alberto Giacometti exhibition, is how necessary uncontrollable elements—weather, sunlight, time—are to the viewer experience. Pass by this work at high noon on a sunny day, and the curtain is nearly clear. Chance upon it at dawn or dusk, however, and the details of light and shadow are revealed. It feels like a secret, intimate moment shared between viewer and artwork; a playful approach to the idea of transparency and our perception of it.

Amy Wike, Marketing Manager