Duncan Phillips’s Conversations on the Page

This month’s members’ magazine includes a new feature called “From the Archives” and our first selection focuses on Duncan Phillips’s love of Giorgione and his related exchanges with scholar Bernard Berenson on issues of attribution.

Heavily annotated plates in a 1907 printing of H.F. Cook's Giorgione, from the library of Duncan Phillips.

Heavily annotated plates in a 1907 printing of H.F. Cook’s Giorgione, from the library of Duncan Phillips.

I have written before about Phillips’s prolific marginalia. I do not write in my books, but having come across, and even relied upon, so many of Phillips’s notes, I wonder if I shouldn’t start having these conversations with text. A couple of years ago, Sam Anderson wrote a wonderful essay in The New York Times Magazine about how he came to be a devoted writer of marginalia:

Today I rarely read anything—book, magazine, newspaper—without a writing instrument in hand. Books have become my journals, my critical notebooks, my creative outlets. Writing in them is the closest I come to regular meditation; marginalia is—no exaggeration—possibly the most pleasurable thing I do on a daily basis.

Anderson goes on to lament the shift to e-readers, clinical devices without the same sense of ownership. Do they mean the end of a reader’s ability to energize their experience of text by recording their responses, creating a dialog? In the end, Anderson comes around, re-envisioning marginalia as, in fact, a very current way to communicate. What else is Twitter but a giant collection of in-the-moment responses, musings jotted in the margins of real life? (And in a bit of a meta twist, Anderson sometimes tweets images of his marginalia!)

Phillips enjoyed intellectual engagement—with others, with himself, with text. His marginalia can be some of the most revealing resources available on this private man. If he were alive today, would he take to Twitter, sharing his arguments and considerations in 140 characters, as opposed to hiding all of those ideas in the pages of books and the backs of brochures? If he thought he could find a worthy audience, I think he might.

New Year’s Resolution: Read More Books

Weston_Dos Passos Reading

Harold Weston, Dos Passos Reading, 1933. Oil on canvas, 22.125 x 16 in. Acquired 1933. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

tasev_man reading

Antanas Tasev, Man Reading, 1927. Pencil on paper, 6 1/4 x 9 in. Acquired 1949. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Gromaire_Nude Reading

Marcel Gromaire, Nude Reading, 1929. Ink on paper, 13 3/8 x 9 1/2 in. Gift of Jean Goriany, 1943. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Exploring Transparency

Vesna Pavlovic works on a light table in the archives viewing negatives (left) and shares a glimpse of her process (right). Photos: Sarah Osborne Bender (left), Vesna Pavlovic (right)

Vesna Pavlovic works on a light table in the archives viewing negatives (left) and shares a glimpse of her process (right). Photos: Sarah Osborne Bender (left), Vesna Pavlovic (right)

Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

Photo: Sarah Osborne Bender

 

Upcoming 2014 Intersections artist Vesna Pavlovic, whose work will be on view in late May, spent last week in the museum’s library and archive, exploring not only the collection but also the space. Head librarian Karen Schneider guided her through the materials. Using installation photograph negatives from 1960s exhibitions by Alberto Giacometti and Mark Tobey, she observed the results of combining images. She also experimented with the transparency and light of our skylight from the courtyard above.