A Different Experience of Space

In this video, Intersections artist Vesna Pavlović discusses her recently installed work at the Phillips, Illuminated Archive. “In any typical museum setting, we’re used to seeing artworks on walls,” says Pavlović. “One of the pieces in the show is a 35-foot long sheer curtain with digitally transferred black and white imagery, which offers a different experience of space.”

What Happened to that Negative?

The image that Intersections artist Vesna Pavlović created with the deteriorated 8 x 10 negative from the museum archives is mysterious and fascinating to look at. But what happened to it?

Vesna Pavlović, Untitled (Swiss Peasant art exhibition, 1957.4) (2014), 40 x 50 in. Framed archival pigment print. Ed. of 5. Courtesy of the artist and G Fine Art

The installation shots of the Phillips’s 1957 show, Swiss Peasant Art, were taken using large format cellulose triacetate sheet film or safety film (so called because it was less flammable than the previously available nitrate film.) The film captured clear, detailed images but over time the acetate film base shrunk, pulling away from the emulsion and causing bubbles and an effect called channeling. Thankfully, the archives has a full set of 8 x 10 contact prints (created by sandwiching photographic paper and the negative, generating a print the same size as the negative and preserving detail).

Swiss Peasant Art exhibition at the Phillips, June 9-July 2, 1927. This is the print from the deteriorated negative appropriated by Vesna Pavlovic. Photo: The Phillips Collection Archives, Washington DC.

Swiss Peasant Art exhibition at the Phillips, June 9-July 2, 1957. This is the print from the deteriorated negative adapted by Vesna Pavlović. Photo: The Phillips Collection Archives, Washington DC.

Swiss Peasant Art might seem like an unusual show for the Phillips, and it was. Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services—or SITES—the show was called “one of the most heartwarming exhibitions to be seen in Washington in a long time” in a review from The Washington Post. The objects were selected from Appenzell and Toggenburg and focused on the ceremony of Alpenaufzug, the annual upward trek of herds to the springtime mountain pastures. The show included paintings, wooden milk pails, cut brass, a clock, and other decorative items.

Swiss Peasant Art exhibition at the Phillips, June 9-July 2, 1927. Photo: The Phillips Collection Archives, Washington DC.

Swiss Peasant Art exhibition at the Phillips, June 9-July 2, 1957. Photo: The Phillips Collection Archives, Washington DC.

A Home for all the Arts

Caption: Duncan Phillips’s journal from between 1917 and c. 1920, on view in the Reading Room through February 2015. Photo: Vivian Djen

Duncan Phillips was a prolific writer. Starting in his days as a student at Yale, Phillips wrote about art and literature, recounted trips abroad, and recorded his dreams for his museum. Meticulously cared for in the Phillips archives, the texts from the 1900s to 1930s show the development of his collecting vision and his passion for art.

Phillips’s journals from 1917 to 1920 anticipate the museum’s opening in 1921:

We dream that the Phillips Memorial Gallery shall be a home for all the arts. We propose that the building shall be of a domestic rather than a formal and institutional type of architecture; that the grounds surrounding the building shall be laid out with terraces and gardens in keeping with the architectural style formally selected, that there shall be, as part of the scheme an Auditorium for lectures, plays and concerts; that there shall be a comprehensive art library; and a gallery for exhibitions of contemporary painting, foreigners as well as American. We propose to especially dedicate ourselves however to the encouragement of American art. We have in mind a plan for exhibiting the permanent collection in units with rooms containing the most important works obtainable by selected artists, rooms that will serve as memorials to the genius of these artists and to which their admirers will make [pilgrimages].