Welcome back to The Phillips Collection

What a precious experience to be back in the galleries, up close to works of art, and with fellow art lovers! It is marvelous to look closely at McArthur Binion’s DNA: Black Painting: 1 made up of birth certificate words, or the jagged wood elements in Aime Mpane’s Maman Calcule, or sense the touch of the artist’s hand in the brushwork in a Stuart Davis. Art looking is about taking time, investing patience, giving into a dialogue, or, to paraphrase Duncan Phillips, about “meeting the artist half way.” Even with the necessary safety precautions of timed tickets, limited numbers, masks, social distancing, the experience is powerful.

Dorothy Kosinski with McArthur Binion, DNA: Black Painting: 1, 2015, Oil paint stick, graphite, and paper on board, 84 x 84 in, The Phillips Collection, Director’s Discretionary Fund, 2016

Museums are places for art and wellness—so, naturally, the first hours of our reopening Preview Days were reserved for our many community partners, many of whom are essential workers, teachers, and health professionals; our heartfelt thanks to them for all of their heroic work through the pandemic. My thanks to our supporters, donors, and trustees for an abiding investment in our work, even as our doors have been closed. I thank our dedicated staff for engaging our audiences so creatively on myriad digital platforms during the past months, and for continuing to grow our online offerings that will be the foundation for a robust digital presence going forward. Thank you to those that have kept our building and artwork safe since March. And thank you to the frontline staff who are now on site to ensure that your visit is pleasant and safe. It has been a team effort to reopen our doors.

Scenes from our reopening Member Preview Days, October 8-11

Please visit—there is a lot to see: Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition, Moira Dryer: Back in Business (both have been extended through the end of the year), a new installation of 11 Edward Hopper paintings from the Whitney Museum of American Art, a video installation of an election theme work by Brian Dailey, and banners by conceptual artist Jenny Holzer on the main façade. And there will be more to see as we carefully open up additional galleries, and as we prepare for our centennial in 2021. Welcome back.

The Road to Reopening

On October 15, The Phillips Collection will be reopening some galleries to the public, after being closed since March due to the covid-19 pandemic. Director of Strategy and Operations Micha Winkler Thomas and Security Operations Manager Bob Harris share the months-long process of welcoming staff and visitors back to the museum.

Who did you work with on the reopening process?

Micha Winkler Thomas: The reopening process has been a months-long collaborative effort, starting in May when we formed a Reopening Task Force consisting of colleagues from every department. This dedicated team met weekly, gathering and analyzing information to determine how and when The Phillips Collection would reopen. This included following the Mayor’s Reopen DC guidelines for a phased reopening of cultural institutions, CDC health recommendations, looking at the current data for DC, as well as reaching out to health expert Joshua Sharfstein, current Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. We conferred with national and international museum colleagues who either reopened or were in the process of reopening to gain best practices and lessons learned, using their admissions statistics to determine our best plan of action.

Reopening Task Force members in the galleries in September conducting one of many rounds of beta testing of the visitor experience to make sure it is safe and enjoyable.

How did you tackle the development of a plan?

MWT: The key to our reopening plan was our careful and deliberate phased approach. The state of the pandemic is so uncertain, so it is important for us to remain flexible. By beginning our reopening with only the Goh Annex and Sant Building on a limited basis and for a limited number of guests, we are hoping to create a serene and safe haven for our guests and staff to experience the amazing art of The Phillips Collection. We will open the House galleries and add more timed entries based on DC and CDC health guidelines, and also when we feel the time is right.

Bob Harris in the galleries determining the best route for visitors.

How has the building and art been kept safe over these last few months?

Bob Harris: Our security staff has been on site through the entire closure, and we are very thankful to those heroic, dedicated, and exceptional staff members that kept our buildings and artworks secure for so many months. We carried out the 24/7 security functions and tasks to protect the offices and galleries. I joined the Phillips in May, leaving the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts after nearly a decade in their Department of Security Services. In fact, I have been in law enforcement and security for nearly 40 years and have become a subject matter specialist on museum and cultural property protection principles and methodology. As a commander, I was involved in helping to conduct the closure at the VMFA in March, and I brought my expertise to the Phillips.

Contactless temperature check stations at staff and public entrances, and hand sanitizer stations throughout the building.

What has been done to ensure the safety of staff and visitors?

BH: Every safety measure we have put in place has been to protect both our staff and visitors—it is important that our staff is subject to the same protocols and considerations as our guests. We conducted an anonymous staff survey to determine what everyone would be comfortable with and what people were concerned about. We have worked closely with our facilities team to optimize our air filtration throughout the building. The summer months focused on enhanced onsite safety protocols for returning staff as well as preparing for the museum’s reopening. PPE stations, hand sanitizer stations, and safety signs were put in place throughout the museum, along with covid-19 return to work staff and visitor protocols to ensure social distancing and mask adherence. Contactless temperature/mask readers were installed at staff and public entrances, as well as Plexiglas partitions at the reception desk, admissions lobby, and museum shop. We measured every gallery to determine capacity in every space and on each floor, carefully determining the best route for visitors and to minimize crowding and cross traffic. The team has created a directional visitor flow plan that will allow for social distancing as well as an engaging visitor experience upon the museum’s public reopening. Security staff have been brought back in a phased approach to meet reopening operational needs. While we still have a lot to do to fully reopen, I am proud of our hard work across departments that has made reopening possible and we are thrilled to finally welcome visitors back in the galleries to enjoy the art!

Signage and PPE stations placed in galleries and office spaces.

Collections Care During Closure

Head of Conservation Lilli Steele shares the how the collection has been cared for while the museum has been closed.

While the doors have been shut to The Phillips Collections due to covid-19, the Phillips staff has still been busy caring for the permanent collection and the artworks in the special exhibitions. Every day since mid-March, our security staff has conducted daily checks throughout the entire museum and our building engineers have closely monitored the climate control system. Once a week, someone from our conservation department has walked through the galleries to inspect all of the works of art on view to check for any changes in condition, with particular attention to the loans included in Riffs and Relations: African American Artists and the European Modernist Tradition and Moira Dryer: Back in Business. Since both exhibitions closed so soon after they opened in February, the generous lenders have agreed to extend the exhibitions until January 2021 and December 2020, respectively. In order to prevent over exposure of light to works that are vulnerable to fading—such as drawings, watercolors, prints, and photographs, which are generally only placed on view for three months a year—the galleries were kept dim as much as possible. In addition, preparation staff carefully covered light sensitive works of art under dark fabrics to ensure that they received no additional exposure during the extended exhibition period.

Conservator Lilli Steele examines Alma Thomas, Watusi (Hard Edge), 1963, Acrylic on canvas, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, Gift of Vincent Melzac, 1976. Adjacent to the painting, several prints have been covered with a dark cloth to eliminate additional light exposure.

The museum’s outdoor sculptures have also been carefully tended to during the shut down, After the long rainy spring, the sculptures were due to be washed to remove pollen, bird droppings, and other dirt residues that had accumulated over the winter. Periodic cleaning of Angela Bulloch’s Heavy Metal Stack, Fat Cyan Three (located at the corner of 21st and Q), Seymour Lipton’s Ancestor (located in front of the Phillips House), and Barbara Hepworth’s Dual Form and Ellsworth Kelly’s Untitled (EK927) (in the Hunter Courtyard) has continued during the summer and into the fall to ensure their preservation.

Wearing masks and socially distanced on a warm September afternoon, conservators Lilli Steele and Patti Favero and preparator Laylaa Randera wash Ellsworth Kelly’s Untitled (EK927).

While it was strange to be in the museum for many months with virtually no colleagues present and certainly no visitors, I felt comforted to be able to enjoy old friends from the permanent collection and be reminded of the Phillips’s exceptional exhibitions. We are so excited to finally carefully remove the coverings over the artworks and welcome visitors back into our galleries and also to enjoy our newly cleaned sculptures.