Henri Matisse, Studio, Quai Saint-Michel, 1916. Oil on canvas, 58 1/4 x 46 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1940.
What is it like to be an artist working at The Phillips Collection? I tackle this question not because I claim to be an artist—far from it, in fact; I see myself more as a cultural sociologist than an artist—but because over the last month or so of working here, I have been inspired to create more than ever before. More to the point, over the next few weeks, the Phillips is exhibiting works by artists employed at the museum and I wanted to take a moment to think about how we are all affected by working amongst great art.
It is a traditionally held dictate that visitors to a museum shall passively engage with the art. Walk up to it silently, contemplate subject and color for a moment, then move on to the next piece. Here at the Phillips, however, the environment is such that one cannot help but become intimately attached to the works hanging on the walls. They become old friends, and we move from passive engagement to something more ambiguous and often awkwardly articulated. The works of art become inspiration. They pop up in dreams and motifs in our own work. Moreover, most of the museum guards have an artistic bent which allows for conversation about and active engagement with the art, and who among us does not feel a tinge of joy when we come across the many troops of school children discussing pieces and creating their own art in response? Personally, I have become obsessed with Henri Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel. It is currently on view on the second floor of the original Phillips house in a small gallery just past Renoir’s Luncheon of the Booting Party. The painting’s size in this room makes it imposing and all consuming. It is as if you are transported into that studio space with its soft light. It has sparked in my work a new interest in color and pattern, as well as an impulse to incorporate other art forms such as music into my otherwise purely visual creations.
It is impossible to remain passive in a museum like the Phillips. You are constantly confronting works in a personal way and they in turn intimately confront you. Being an artist working here is like gaining the ability of osmosis as the creative urge seeps into your veins. All I can say is, after a day’s work within this museum, I cannot wait to get back to my canvas and paints.
Dominique Lopes, Director’s Office Intern