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.

Remembering John Lewis

Congressman John Lewis visited The Phillips Collection in May 2008 during the whirlwind first months of my tenure as director of the museum. He joined me and curator Elsa Smithgall along with National Endowment for the Arts Chair Dana Gioia to view our installation of Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series. He also generously made time to talk to some of the students with whom we work. What an impression he made on all of us.

NEA Chair Dana Gioia, Dorothy Kosinski, Congressman John Lewis, and Curator Elsa Smithgall with Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series

Congressman John Lewis speaks with students in the auditorium

Congressman Lewis was friends with artist Benny Andrews (1930-2006). We are honored to have in the Phillips’s collection Andrews’s magnificent Trail of Tears, thanks to the incredible generosity of Agnes Gund. Andrews produced collages and ink drawings for the 2006 publication John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement by Jim Haskins ad Kathleen Benson. Later, in 2013, Lewis wrote a foreword for the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition Benny Andrews: There Must Be a Heaven at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York City. Lewis’s words about Andrews capture the ethical compass of his life:

Benny Andrews, Trail of Tears (Trail of Tears Series and Migrant Series), 2006, Oil on four canvases with painted fabric and mixed media collage, 76 x 145 x 1 in., Gift of Agnes Gund, 2019

“You see, for Benny, like all of us who were involved in non-violent direct action, protest is an act of love, not one of anger. Through all the jailings, beatings, protests, and prayers of the Civil Rights Movement, we always had ‘this basic idea,’ as Benny so appropriately put it, ‘that good would overcome evil.’ And it is from that place that we offered our complaint. Our desire was not to condemn, but to appeal to the better angels of all humanity. We demonstrated what was wrong to awaken that divine spark that resides in all of us with the power to build and not tear down, to reconcile and not divide, to love and not hate. This critique is an invitation to build a better world based on simple justice that values the dignity and the worth of every human being.”

We mourn Congressman Lewis’s passing and honor his lifelong work for and devotion to equity and justice.

I Miss Aimé Mpane’s Maman Calcule

The Phillips Collection galleries have been dark and empty and our staff and visitors have been missing our beloved collection. In this series we will highlight artworks that the Phillips staff have really been missing lately. Vradenburg Director and CEO Dorothy Kosinski on why she misses Aimé Mpne’s Maman Calcule (2013).

Aimé Mpane, Maman Calcule, 2013, Mural on pieces of wood, 83 x 73 in., The Phillips Collection, Dreier Fund for Acquisitions. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

I definitely miss one of our newer acquisitions, Maman Calcule, a large (almost seven by six feet) mural constructed of individual pieces of wood by Congolese artist Aimé Mpane. I met the artist and fell in love with his work years earlier at the (e)merge art fair here in DC that used to take place at Capitol Skyline Hotel. We actually added a work to the collection then in 2012, Mapasa, through The Herbert and Dorothy Vogel Award. Many of us were drawn to Mpane’s work, and you’ll find his small ten-by-ten-inch wood carvings in a variety of collections across the city, several of them designated as promised gifts to the museum. Mpane carves and shaves his plywood with a traditional African woodworking tool, an adze. He depicts people—men, women, and children—often emphasizing brightly colored traditional clothes and hair styles, capturing with uncanny brilliance the vibrant life of the street scenes of his native Kinshasa.

Maman Calcule presents a large portrait head, staring straight ahead with a penetrating, even severe gaze. This is a figure of dignity and authority. Tightly wound braids of hair surround the face like an aureole. The versos of each “brick” of wood is painted red, creating a glowing atmosphere that pushes the image forward and further amplifies its presence. Mpane splits his time between the Congo and Belgium, pointedly living out the post-colonial complexities that tether the former European power and its exploited subject state. It is very important to include Mpane’s work in our growing collection, thereby further expanding the story we tell of modern and contemporary art, beyond the confines of an old-fashioned European-American narrative.