Collecting with Passion: Part 2


Photo: Courtesy Wendy Grossman

This article, written by collector Anita Reiner’s daughter, Renee Reiner, was first published by Christie’s in May 2014 and is reposted here in three parts in conjunction with the exhibition A Tribute To Anita Reiner, on view at the Phillips through Jan. 4, 2015. Read Part 1 here. We welcome others to share their own anecdotes about this legendary collector or contribute comments about the installation honoring her.


Anita’s friend Wendy wrote of her early years: “When a painting or a sculpture spoke to Anita, she embraced it. A serendipitous encounter at The Phillips Collection in the early years of her quest to learn about modern art was instrumental in shaping the open-minded attitude that ultimately guided her collecting philosophy. While looking inquisitively at the newly installed paintings by Mark Rothko in the early 1960s, she was approached by an elderly gentleman—as she told it—who asked her what she thought. To which she mumbled an indifferent reply. The man told her: ‘Young lady, you always have to meet new art half way.’ She never forgot those words. The man, she subsequently learned, was Duncan Phillips.”

It was in 1967 that Anita purchased her first piece of art. It came from Leo Castelli and cost $540. (She asked for, and received, a 10% discount off of the $600 price.) It was Andy Warhol’s Black on Black self-portrait. We—Anita’s four children—still love this piece and intend to rotate it from house to house in future years.

A few years later, on one of her New York visits, Anita stopped a man on the street and asked, “Did you just have your portrait painted?” When he said yes, she returned to the Bykert Gallery where she had been watching Chuck Close paint Nat, his father-in-law, and purchased this painting while the paint was still wet. Just a few years ago, Mom was thrilled to be able to gift this piece to the National Gallery of Art.

Other artists that became part of Anita’s early collection included Larry Bell, Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Dine, John Salt, Don Eddy, Claes Oldenburg, Duane Hanson, Kenneth Nolan, and Ralph Goings. Says friend Steve, “Her collection was a side effect of her passion. She had a good, confident eye. She knew what moved her. Her taste was amazing.” Anita was never afraid of challenging art: quite the opposite, actually. “She wasn’t afraid to buy tough work,” says Steve.

Renee Reiner

Reiner reception_generations_Wendy Grossman

Three generations from the Reiner family gather at a reception honoring Anita at the Phillips last week.

Collecting with Passion: Part 1

This article, written by collector Anita Reiner’s daughter, Renee Reiner, was first published by Christie’s in May 2014 and is reposted here in three parts in conjunction with the exhibition A Tribute To Anita Reiner, on view at the Phillips through Jan. 4, 2015. We welcome others to share their own anecdotes about this legendary collector or contribute comments about the installation honoring her.

Reiner install_umbrella corner

Installation view of the exhibition A Tribute To Anita Reiner, currently on view at the museum. Photo courtesy The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Though small in stature, Anita was bigger than life. All who knew her were in awe of her seemingly boundless energy and big heart. Anita was insatiable in her desire to learn and to take advantage of all that life had to offer. She traveled the world in search of adventure and inevitably found it, if it didn’t find her first.

These words, from her dear friend Wendy Grossman, describe my mom perfectly.

Anita was an avid collector of contemporary art for close to 50 years. She was smart, focused, and intense about this pursuit. And, at the same time, she was also fast. Mom would walk into a gallery, move through once quickly, and home in on “best of show” before I could park the car and join her inside. Stylistically, she was always this way. She thought fast and talked even faster. Her brain revved at a speed that others found unfathomable. Her dear friend Steve Shane says, “She had so much going on in her brain…Her brain was going faster than her mouth. She’d go from one artist to the next. I’d have to interrupt her and ask her which artist she was talking about because she was so excited!”

Anita started traveling to New York galleries when I, the youngest of her four children, was quite small: once a month on Saturday mornings she and my dad were in the car or on the shuttle, traveling to New York. As Dad drove, she poured through the Gallery Guide, writing down the names of galleries they would visit in Soho and uptown. She was known for maintaining her lists on index cards. Upon arrival, the two of them hit the ground running, allotting no more than 30 minutes per gallery. When I was deemed old enough to participate in these adventures (at about 6), I was occasionally invited to go along. I would have my fill after three galleries, but Mom would be going strong as we perused 10 or 12 more. Her energy was boundless.

Anita was not only becoming a collector in those early days; also during this time—the late 1960s—Mom finished her bachelor’s degree and then continued on to complete her Master’s in Art History. Afterward she taught Art History at both Catholic and George Mason Universities. I was a teen by then, and sat in on some of her classes: a projector flashed slides and Anita shared details on the masters from centuries past. I thought her knowledge extraordinary. However, her ability to share information may have been hampered because she always spoke so quickly! I was glad that I was not a student having to pass her exam.

There was a clear crossover between these academic pursuits and the world she was absorbing at the New York galleries. Anita began collecting after her father died and left her $10,000. This was just enough for Anita to become a nascent art collector, and was likely why she sought out less established artists—they were in her price range. But these emerging artists, we all later came to understand, offered Anita something more—she was intrigued by, and supportive of, works that were considered avant garde, risky, or controversial.

— Renee Reiner

Pedro Lasch’s Abstract Nationalism / National Abstraction: Part 6

On October 27 artist Pedro Lasch premiered his work Abstract Nationalism/National Abstraction: Anthems for Four Voices at The Phillips Collection as part of the International Forum Weekend in Washington. In this audio-visual performance, national anthems of specific countries are sung in the language of the country listed alphabetically after it in the World Almanac.

In a six part blog series, Curatorial Intern Lauren Reuter asks the artist about this work and how it fits into the Phillips, art, and politics. Read Part 1 herePart 2 herePart 3 here, Part 4, and Part 5 here.

Exploring themes of nationality and diplomacy during the International Forum Weekend will undoubtedly engender discussions on art and politics. What do you see as the relationship between the two? Do you see a tension, a playfulness, both?

To me, that’s very much tied in the title of the work. The title is a provocation. I’m bonding two words that we don’t like to see in relation to each other: abstraction and nationalism. As long as there has been art, there have been debates about whether it should be political or not. But whenever you speak of abstraction in art, there have been strong tendencies to assume that art must be separate from politics.

The Phillips shows a lot of this type of artwork—Rothko being the most famous example. In Rothko’s generation, many artists were blacklisted, very politically active. But in their work, you don’t see direct politics. They actually wanted that separation. The way I see that relationship between nationalism and abstraction is that it forces people to think, “Wait, isn’t abstract art also political? And aren’t some of the forms of nationalism also art?”

Performance of Pedro Lasch's Abstract Nationalism / National Abstraction at The Phillips Collection

Performance of Pedro Lasch’s Abstract Nationalism / National Abstraction at The Phillips Collection

A few years after the occupation of Iraq in 2003, they tried to institute a new flag to eliminate the handwriting that had been put on it during Saddam Hussein’s reign. There was a national competition, and a contemporary Iraqi artist won. The artist chose the colors blue, white, and green. It was a nice half moon, a beautiful design—a very abstract representation of the Kurdish, the Suni, the Shi’ite. People were outraged: “You’re crazy! Our colors are red, white, and black with the green star. Those are the Arab Union colors, you can’t mess with that. The only other country in the region with white and blue is Israel.” Politically and from a national standpoint, it was a fiasco, all because of the choice of color. But if you say, “Who’s afraid of red, yellow, and blue in a Barnett Newmann painting?” It’s just this big colorfield painting with three colors. It’s a flag! Visually speaking, the two are not that far from each other. We just like to pretend that they are. The language of high modernism is deeply indebted to national symbols and vice versa. It’s not by chance that Jasper John’s most famous artwork is the US flag. Some will say the two should never mix, and some will say the two are always mixed and its nonsense to say they aren’t. I enjoy the pluralism and the huge range of artistic practices.