Talking Culture in the Global Classroom

Klaus Ottmann, seated right of center, lecturing at Georgetown School of Foreign Service’s RPX classroom to students in Washington, DC, and Doha, Qatar. Photo: Eliza French

Klaus Ottmann, seated right of center, lecturing at Georgetown School of Foreign Service’s RPX classroom to students in Washington, DC, and Doha, Qatar. Photo: Eliza French

On Tuesday October 8, 2013, Director of the Center for the Study of Modern Art and Phillips Curator at Large Klaus Ottmann gave a special bi-local lecture to Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service students in Washington, DC and Doha, Qatar at Georgetown University’s  Polycom RealPresence Experience (RPX) classroom. The RPX classroom allows the students to meet face-to-face in real time for discussion and interaction despite being separated by continents and time zones. The lecture was part of “Globalization, Diplomacy, and the Politics of Exhibitions,” a new collaborative course presented by Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and The Phillips Collection.

The session on October 8th was unique in that it included students in Doha in addition to students in DC who meet regularly, either on Georgetown’s campus or at our Center for the Study of Modern ArtShiloh Krupar, Assistant Professor of Culture and Politics in the School of Foreign Service, is the lead instructor for GU, and guest lectures are given by Phillips staff members, among them director Dorothy Kosinski, curators Sue Frank, Vesela Sretenovic, and Klaus Ottmann, and educator Rachel Goldberg. As part of the course, students will attend the 2013 International Forum Weekend, presented in partnership with Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. The program, titled “The Power of Culture/The Culture of Power,”  will focus on cultural diplomacy and will be a culminating event for both the students and the institutions involved in the collaboration.

In his lecture entitled “Art & Contemplation,” Ottmann focused on two highly contemplative permanent installations unique to the Phillips, the Rothko Room and the Laib Wax Room, making a case for art that is “engaged in a materialist formalism, based in part on a structuralist analysis of the world, which attributes ideological meaning to the materials themselves and in part on a participatory humanism, a renewed involvement in the question of being, in transcendence, and in the social.” Ottmann calls this type of formalism, which is at once spiritual and social, “spiritual materiality.”

After the lecture, Ottmann answered questions from students in Doha and in Washington.

Ottmann’s lecture on Tuesday marked an important moment for both Georgetown University and The Phillips Collection. With our collaboration, both organizations are hoping to maximize our global reach while educating the next generation of diplomats. By facilitating discussion among students over 6,000 miles away or convening global artists and diplomatic leaders together with students during the International Forum Weekend, the partnership expands the idea of the physical space a classroom can encompass and enables students and instructors to engage in the actual work of cultural diplomacy during “class” time. We look forward the many opportunities this collaboration will bring to engage students, professors, global leaders, and our members in the “global conversation through the language of modern art” Duncan Phillips envisioned.

Eliza French, Manager of Center Initiatives

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