A Look Back on 12 Years as Chief Curator

After 12 years of distinguished leadership and curatorial accomplishments, Klaus Ottmann has stepped down from his role as Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Academic Affairs. During his tenure at the Phillips, Ottmann oversaw the curatorial, conservation, and registrarial departments, as well as led our major academic partnership with the University of Maryland. Here, Klaus shares some of his favorite memories.

What makes The Phillips Collection different from other museums?

The Phillips is unique in many ways but one of its most distinctive characteristics is the emphasis on creating new conversations between art works, which keeps the collection alive, relevant, and new, even if one has seen some of the individual works in other contexts before. This is what distinguishes The Phillips Collection from other more static museums, where art is not allowed to thrive and acquire new layers of meaning.

What are your hopes for the Phillips’s next century?

To continue to strive for more diversity within its collection and exhibitions without abandoning its foundational mission as a museum of modern and contemporary art where the intimate and experimental meet.

What exhibitions/programs/partnerships are you most proud of?

First and foremost, I would consider the creation of the Wolfgang Laib Wax Room my lasting legacy. In regards to exhibitions: Angels Demons, and Savages: Pollock, Ossorio, Dubuffet (2013) because I had a brilliant co-curator, Dorothy Kosinski; George Condo: The Way I Think (2017) because it was an extraordinary collaboration with an exceptional artist; Nordic Impressions: Art from Åland, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, 1821–2018 (2018) because it allowed me to work very closely with all of the Nordic Embassies including the Greenlandian Representation (our rich diplomatic partnerships were one of my favorite aspects of working at the Phillips) and because it enabled me to work with 19th-century and 20th-century art in one exhibition for the first time.

George Condo and Klaus Ottmann in the Phillips galleries, 2017. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

What is your favorite work in the Phillips’s collection? What is a favorite work of yours in the Phillips’s collection that our members might not know about?

The Rothko Room has always been my refuge; it is one of the most powerful installations one can experience in a museum. I discovered many wonderful artists and paintings while working at the Phillips. One of my favorite works in the collection, and probably one of the lesser well-known ones, is Louis Michel Eilshemius’s Summer Landscape with Hawk (between 1901 and 1906).

Archives 101: Expanding Research Capabilities

In this series, Phillips Manager, Archives and Library Resources Juli Folk and former Digital Assets Librarian Rachel Jacobson explain the ins and outs of how archives work.

Rolls of microfilm from the Archives of American Art (AAA). These were done so that we could have a copy of the material that the AAA housed for The Phillips Collection from 1979 to 2014. Inside each box is a film of microform which requires a specialized reader.

Welcome to another installment of Archives 101. So far, we have reviewed what an archival collection is, critical steps in archival processing, and finding aids. Now, let’s focus on archival digitization.

Digitization has been a trend in the information science field for decades. One of the early prototypes of digitization was microform, which includes microfilm and microfiche. Microform allowed multiple researchers to view material at once, helped preserve original material, and in some cases reduced storage needs. However, because microform is analog (taking up physical space) they don’t improve accessibility in the same way that digitization does. You must be in person, with the microfilm and a specialized reader, to view the material. Digitized collections can be accessed remotely, as long as you have access to the internet.

Today many archives strive to digitize portions of their collection. This is what The Phillips Collection has done thanks to a stewardship grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Three collections were imaged and are now available on The Phillips Collection’s new archival information management system, ArchivesSpace. In addition to images, the documents were also run through a process called Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which means that you can search for specific terms within a file.

This shows how optical character recognition can pinpoint the term, “Washington.”

Through this project we have expanded our digital infrastructure and hope to make more archival collections accessible remotely in the future.

This workstation shows a digital imaging specialist at Pixel Acuity working on one of the two correspondence collections. The technicians imaged and embedded metadata for our three newly digitized collections, totalling close to 10,000 folders. Photo: Hannah Storch, Client Strategy Manager at Pixel Acuity.

Art, activism, and advocacy with TASSC founding member Sufi Laghari

Author, advocate, and survivor Sufi Laghari, whose portrait is featured in Portraits of Resilience at Phillips@THEARC (on view through July 29), discusses his experience being a part of the exhibition.

Jonathan Banks, Munawar “Sufi,” Pakistan, 2019, Photograph, Courtesy of the artist.

It was March 1997 when I moved to Washington, DC from New York. For the past 25 years, I have been a political activist, advocate and arts enthusiast. Although I knew The Phillips Collection, I hadn’t heard about Phillips@THEARC in Southeast DC until Jonathan Banks asked me to attend an opening event for Portraits of Resilience. The photo series features images of survivors of torture from around the world.

I’m honored to be a part of the exhibition, particularly because I am one of the founding members of Torture Abolition Survivor Support Coalition (TASSC) and could speak about my activism and advocacy at the opening. I shared my experience walking 350 miles from New York to DC for human rights and climate change and announced that I would walk 263 miles from Toronto to Ottawa as part of an advocacy campaign for the US Congress, Canadian Parliament, international community, think tanks, and universities.

It was a unique experience to be on a panel with other survivors and artists. I reflected at the event that art is a great source of inspiration for human dignity and liberty from slavery. Activism and advocacy are other forms of struggle against any dictatorship, racism, or oppression. The Phillips Collection gives voice to the voiceless people.

Sufi’s book is available for purchase in the Phillips’s gift shop.