The Artist Sees Differently: Alec MacKaye

Alec MacKaye, preparator

Photo: Claire Norman

How did you learn about the Phillips?

This is a funny question [for a Washington, D.C. native]! Like asking how did one first hear about the White House or the cherry blossoms or Neil Armstrong. I heard about The Phillips Collection because it holds a place in United States cultural history, in D.C. history, and  in the art world. It may not be among the loudest of voices in the museum-iverse, but some things don’t need a brass band or sky writing to announce their presence.

Not to mention, being a fifth generation Washingtonian, I suppose I learned of the Phillips before I was born – my mother’s next-door neighbor and sometimes painting instructor was a man named Edgar Hewitt Nye. Two of his paintings are held in The Phillips Collection (and many more in the MacKaye Collection!), and his wife, Elizabeth Quackenbush Nye, was my parents’ English teacher at Sidwell Friends. So you see, it would be difficult to pinpoint exactly when I first heard of The Phillips Collection – it was part of me before I knew it.

You’re a musician, a writer, and an artist – do you feel you are inspired by the Phillips art?

Yes – and then more broadly, through it. There are a few certain objects that float before me when I am thinking of something, usually a Alfred Pinkham Ryder or a Philip Guston or a John Marin, and more than that, working here affords me the opportunity to see more than just what we hold. The small Hiroshige show we had a few years back changed the way I dream.

What do you listen to as you’re making art?

Silence, unless I want or need something to force my hand – then its Library of Congress field recordings or punk rock or dub reggae.

Who’s your favorite artist in the collection?

I won’t tell which ones I usually say I like most,  names that most people recognize – instead I will give a couple of names that should send folks to the “search” function on our website, since they likely  haven’t seen them on our walls:  Henry Gershwin, Joseph Solman. I like these two not necessarily for their high finish or classic theme but more for their direct delivery. Continue reading “The Artist Sees Differently: Alec MacKaye” »

Museum and Memory: Part three

This is the third installment of our Museum and Memory series for International Museum Day. Read part one and part two here.

John Marin, Tunk Mountains, Autumn, Maine, 1945. Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in. Acquired 1946. The Phillips Collection

In 1955 my grandparents moved into a custom-built home overlooking Chehalis, Washington, a town located about half way between Seattle and Portland. They drove to Seattle specifically in search of a work of art to hang above their stately fireplace, the focal point of the brick house. The only one they could agree on reminded them of summer vacations spent with their four small children at Lake Chelan in Eastern Washington State. It was a relatively inexpensive reproduction of an oil on canvas, with “Marin 45” scrawled in black in the lower right corner. Over time that “painting” came to symbolize home for the whole family, but knowing very little about art, we didn’t know who the artist was, what year it was painted, its title, or how to find those things. In 2006, when my grandmother followed my grandfather in passing, at the reading of the will the grandchildren were given an opportunity to select a work of art from their collection to keep for ourselves. Instead of one of my grandfather’s high-value Japanese prints I chose the tobacco-stained reproduction above the fireplace as a remembrance of them, and of the countless good times we spent together in that house. My sister had it wrapped and boxed, and she shipped it to me in San Francisco, where I lived at the time. It was too big to hang in my tiny apartment, and so I left my sentimental treasure boxed and secured under my bed. Continue reading “Museum and Memory: Part three” »