My Top Moments from 2023

Vradenburg Director & CEO Jonathan P. Binstock shares his favorite moments from 2023.

As we near the end of 2023, the time is right to reflect on all the great work that the Phillips has accomplished over the past year, and tell you all how honored I am to have been a part of it. I’m sharing here a few of my favorite moments, but of course there are so many more. Thank you for warmly welcoming me back to Washington and into the humbling role of Vradenburg Director & CEO. I am grateful for all the support I have received over the past year. I hope to see you in 2024 frequently in the galleries and at our events. I wish everyone a festive and bright holiday season and happy new year!

Exhibition curators Camille Brown and Renee Maurer at the opening of Pour, Tear, Carve: Material Possibilities in the Collection. Photo: Ryan Maxwell Photography

March: Pour, Tear, Carve: Material Possibilities in the Collection opened two weeks after I began my tenure at the Phillips. By highlighting many recent acquisitions, the exhibition—curated by Camille Brown and Renée Maurer—showcased the museum’s efforts to diversify its collection. I was thrilled to learn about so much new work in the collection, and deeply impressed by how the collection could evolve in exciting ways and simultaneously strengthen the legacy established by our founder, Duncan Phillips.

Jay Campbell and Conrad Tao performing in Linling Lu: Soundwaves exhibition. Photo: Dominic Mann Productions

April: I am consistently blown away by the caliber and creativity of our Phillips Music programs. It is one of the great discoveries (for me) and pleasures of my new role—especially because I’m very much a classical music novice. In April, Conrad Tao and Jay Campbell presented an immersive concert in the Linling Lu: Soundwaves exhibition. Soundwaves was inspired by a 2015 Phillips Music performance of Philip Glass Etudes by Timo Andres. Campbell and Tao performed a work by Catherine Lamb, co-commissioned by the Phillips and inspired by the art and ideas of Paul Klee. What a magnificent intersection of visual art and music!

Dee Dwyer at the opening celebration of her exhibition Wild Seeds of the Soufside. Photo: Dorothy Francis

May: The exhibition of photographs by Dee Dwyer at Phillips@THEARC was a wonderful celebration of Southeast DC. The closing event featured a Go-Go band, art activities, and more. I’m very excited about all the exhibitions and events we present at THEARC, and amazed by the quantity and richness of the partnerships we have developed there with our fellow ARC organization. More than working with and helping to build community around THEARC, which is a dynamic, powerfully vibrant, and growing organization, we are an integral part of the community, and, I’m proud to say, we are perceived that way.

Phillips staff with museum colleagues in the Phillips conservation studio. Photo: Jonathan Binstock

May: It was Cézanne study day, and for 15 minutes I was in art historian heaven, mostly a fly on the wall listening to a team of Cézanne experts rhapsodize on the subject of finished vs. unfinished (does it matter?), the existential (representational?) value of a brushstroke, and on. The stellar group included Lilli Steele, Phillips head conservator, Patti Favero, Phillips conservator, Renée Maurer, Phillips associate curator, Anne Hoenigswald, National Gallery of Art conservator, Barbara Buckly, Barnes Foundation head of conservation, Jayne Warman, art historian and catalogue raisonné author, and Kim Jones, National Gallery of Art curator of French paintings. Don’t miss our Cézanne exhibition in April that will highlight their findings.

Jonathan Binstock with his wife at the Capital Pride Festival

June: It was fun to work the Phillips’s booth at the Capital Pride Festival and talk to people about the museum. Many stopped by to tell us how much they love the Phillips and have been visiting for decades, and others heard about the Phillips for the first time. The Phillips is such an integral part of the city, making it all the more important that we show our support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Inspired by Frank Stewart’s use of reflective elements, three Washington School for Girls students use handheld mirrors in their portraits.

June: Focal Point: Shifting Perspectives through Photography was an exhibition featuring artwork created by Washington School for Girls, Turner Elementary School’s Medical & Educational Support, and Jackson Reed High School Photography Club students inspired by Frank Stewart’s Nexus. The exhibition showcases our continued work with local schools through our Art Links program and Prism.K12 teaching strategies. Through the program the students learned about self-expression, light, movement, creativity, and so much more. And the receptions to celebrate the students and their contributions, along with family and friends, were a ball! I love the bold, striving energy our educators help generate in the students we engage. It’s inspiring.

Creative Aging participants responding to Frank Stewart’s Nexus: An American Photographer’s Journey, 1960s to the Present with Nancy Havlik’s Dance Performance Group

June: During the Frank Stewart-inspired Creative Aging session in the galleries, participants from Iona’s Washington Home Center and Wellness & Arts Center connected to Stewart’s themes and artistry through dance, music, poetry, and drawing. Participants responded to Nancy Havlik’s Dance Performance Group and Miles Spicer’s jazz and blues guitar. This program shows the very direct connection between art and wellness. There was so much joy in the galleries. It’s impossible not to feel—in a moving and visceral way—the positive impact our Creative Aging programs on individual participants. The work we do in this space is incredible.

Left to right: Curator Ruth Fine, Frank Stewart, Hortense Spillars, Fred Moten, Jonathan Binstock

August: In August, to celebrate the final weeks of our fantastic Frank Stewart retrospective, I was humbled to attend the panel with four incredible contributors to the humanistic enterprise: Stewart himself, poet and theoretician Fred Moten, legendary literary and cultural interrogator Hortense Spillers, and the amazing curator and scholar Ruth Fine. Here I am with a bigtime star-eyed emoji face!

Kwaku Yaro, Alidu, 2022, Acrylic, woven nylon and burlap on polymer, 87 3/4 x 60 1/4 in. Photo: Jonathan Binstock

September: During a trip to Europe, I was able to visit the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London. It’s rare that I fall in love so quickly with art I’ve never seen before. The collages of Kwaku Yaro featuring commonly used plastic carry bags purchased in Accra, Ghana, where he lives, and applied to plastic jute-like mats, grabbed me immediately. The Phillips is actively working to acquire more art by international artists, and I’m thrilled to share that we have just acquired a stunning work by Yaro, Alidu (2022).

The Rothko Room temporary installation with loaned paintings from the artist’s family. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

October: Our Rothko Room is the only room created in collaboration with the artist himself that he was able to experience firsthand. In October, three of the four paintings in that room were loaned to the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, and in their place the artist’s family loaned us three incredible works from their collection. I was lucky enough to go see our works in Paris in the major Rothko retrospective on view there, which you must see if you can. There will never be another like it. Transformational. And if you love yellow the way I do, don’t miss the present, temporary reiteration of our Rothko Room.

Jonathan Binstock with Ugo Rondinone in his One-on-One exhibition. Photo: AK Blythe

November: The Phillips does such spectacular work connecting the art of the past with the art of the present—an important tenant of Duncan Phillips’s vision for the museum. I was delighted to meet the internationally renowned artist Ugo Rondinone—I’m a big admirer—during the installation of his One-on-One exhibition, which juxtaposes his work with that of Louis Eilshemius, a rather obscure and mysterious painter and poet loved by Duncan Phillips and Rondinone himself.

Sylvia Snowden’s studio. Photo: Jonathan Binstock

November: I visited artist Sylvia Snowden in her home on M St. NW in Washington, DC, where she has lived for more than 40 years and where she paints canvases on the floor of every room except the kitchen and bathrooms. I first learned about Snowden’s art in graduate school from my academic advisor, Sharon F. Patton. Artist Sam Gilliam introduced me to Sylvia in the mid 1990s. How fortunate I am to meet such incredible artists and to develop relationships with them over many years. The Phillips is integral to the lives our DC artists, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to encourage, support, and honor them. Sylvia Snowden will be an honoree at our 2024 Annual Gala. I hope you will join and help us celebrate her extraordinary accomplishments.

Installation view of An Italian Impressionist in Paris: Giuseppe De Nittis. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

December: When the Washington Post published its top-ten list of exhibitions for the year, the Phillips was the only DC museum included, for our amazing exhibition, An Italian Impressionist in Paris: Giuseppe De Nittis. Way to go team! And what a terrific way to celebrate the Holiday Season!

Best wishes to all, Jonathan

Q&A with Jonathan P. Binstock

Get to know The Phillips Collection’s new Vradenburg Director & CEO Jonathan P. Binstock.

Jonathan P. Binstock is The Phillips Collection’s seventh director. Photo: Margot Schulman

What drew you to The Phillips Collection?

Between 1994 and 1998, I lived at 1724 21st Street, just a block-and-a-half north of the Phillips. I was working at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and researching and writing my PhD dissertation on Sam Gilliam. That’s when I was first drawn to the Phillips, and I have been in love with it ever since. It was more than the world-renowned collection that enchanted me. My connection to the place was personal—just as it is for so many others. As an admittedly depressed, procrastinating graduate student, the Phillips was a guilt-free distraction, a place to indulge my love for art outside of my work and research. As much as I love visiting almost any art museum, and as much as I owe SAAM for providing me with the best possible professional training, the Phillips was my museum. It nurtured me during a difficult time in my life.

What will be your top priorities as the Vradenburg Director & CEO?

My top priority at present is to bring the love, passion, and energy I have for art and for serving communities through museum work to my new role. How this will take shape, I can’t be sure. I must begin with understanding what the Phillips is now, where it came from, and how it got here. The current exhibition, Pour, Tear, Carve, featuring a broad selection of works from the permanent collection, is a timely opportunity to get to know some recent acquisitions. We owe a lot to Director Emerita Dorothy Kosinski and her 15-year tenure, including for leading the effort to expand the size and scope of the permanent collection. I’m familiar with the historical treasures, but the Phillips is much more than that today.

Programmatically, we are firing on all pistons. We engage guests at 21st Street, THEARC in Southeast DC, and online with a wide variety of offerings. These include in-person events, hands-on art-making sessions, weekly online meditations on art, teacher professional development, pre-K–12 programs, and our Phillips Music series . . . the list goes on. Moreover, I want to get to know the more than 100+ full-time team members, if only on a first-name basis—this will be tough given that I’m good with faces but not so much with names! And I must develop a productive conversation with every member of the Board of Trustees, each of whom has impressed me in these early weeks with their dedication and hard work on behalf of the museum. Ours is very much a working board, and this engaged leadership is instrumental to what makes the Phillips such a special, successful, and beloved institution. Suffice it to say I have a lot of learning to do.

Jonathan P. Binstock chats with visitors at the opening of Pour, Tear, Carve. Photo: Ryan Maxwell.

What do you hope for the Phillips’s second century?

In a nutshell, my hope is to build on the success, for the Phillips is a uniquely successful institution. Yes, for its incredible art collection and excellent, dynamic programming, but also for something else, something even more difficult to describe than a Post-Impressionist treasure, or the feeling of time spent inside the Rothko Room. I’m beginning to believe there are two kinds of people in the world: those who have never visited, and those for whom the Phillips is their (or one of their) favorite art museums. There is something undeniably special about the place. It manifests a magical brew—of exceptional art, intimate, domestically scaled architecture, tree-lined neighborhood streets, and idiosyncratic founding principles derived from the DNA of a welcoming familial vibe—that creates the right conditions for people to fall in love with what we have and are. My very first hope is to further this sentiment. Let’s build strength on strength. How can we cultivate more love?

Will there be change? To be sure. To know the story of Duncan Phillips is to know how our founder was always curious and open-minded, eager to learn and expand his taste; he was always evolving, both as a collector and an institutional leader. The Phillips may be more than 100 years old, but I see it as still in its adolescence. The Phillips is precocious, ambitious, and has always punched above its weight and scale. Where will our open-minded curiosity lead us? For the Phillips, the best is always yet to come.

How will you ensure that diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) continues to be infused in all of The Phillips Collection’s work?

The Phillips was one of the first art museums to engage a Chief Diversity Officer, and the work that the staff and trustees have been doing regarding DEAI has touched nearly every aspect of the museum. Before I became director, I could see the institution’s DEAI principles in its exhibitions and programs. Now that I’m here, I look forward to working closely with Dr. Yuma Tomes, our Horning Chair for Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion, to embed those principles more deeply into who we are and what we do, and to see every aspect of the institution through a DEAI lens. Ensuring that anyone who’s interested feels they belong at the Phillips and as if the Phillips belongs to them is not just the right thing to do. This is a key strategy for increasing the love, and it will help ensure the strength of our museum for the future. Part of what attracted me to the Phillips was the opportunity to have a permanent DEAI professional on staff, because doing this work well demands that the necessary expertise be at the leadership table all the time. My role is to make sure all of us—staff, board, and volunteers—understand our responsibility for advancing equitable and inclusive strategies and practices in every corner of the institution. Dr. Tomes leads this effort, and I will make sure he has the resources to do so.

What is your favorite Phillips artwork?

This is an unfair question. I was told being the Vradenburg Director and CEO would be a challenging role, but no one said it would be this challenging! Okay, all kidding aside, if I may be allowed to have several favorites, and if we may limit the discussion to what’s currently on view, then I will indulge the impossibility of the task. Miss Amelia Van Buren by Thomas Eakins is as remarkable a depiction of pensive absorption as there has ever been, and it is arguably by the greatest American realist whose paintings are terribly rare. Granted, its traditionalism makes it a bit of an outlier in the collection. That being said, having spent two years in Philadelphia, where Eakins lived and worked, his art holds a special place in my heart and I am thrilled that we have one of his best paintings in our collection.

One can’t talk about Eakins without talking about Diego Velázquez and the Golden Age of Spanish painting—one of modernism’s sources, as understood by Duncan Phillips—which leads me to another Phillips jewel, Spanish Ballet by Édouard Manet. Manet manifested his admiration for the Spanish realist tradition in profoundly more radical terms than Eakins, which brings this discussion closer to the experimental heart of the Phillips project.

Thomas Eakins, Miss Amelia Van Buren, c. 1891, Oil on canvas, 45 x 32 in., Acquired 1927; Edouard Manet, Spanish Ballet, 1862, Oil on canvas, 24 x 35 5/8 in., Acquired 1928; Jeffrey Gibson, A RARE AND GENTLE THING, 2020, Acrylic on deer hide on panel, glass beads and artificial sinew inset into wood frame, 34 1/2 x 28 7/8 in., Promised gift of Lindsay and Henry Ellenbogen in loving memory of Mirella Levinas, © Jeffrey Gibson

Finally, I absolutely adore Jeffrey Gibson’s A RARE AND GENTLE THING. Gibson, a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, painted this strikingly beautiful and very sweet work on deer skin, an homage to Native American materials and traditions. Equally touching is its credit line, which is a promised gift to the Phillips from Lindsay and Henry Ellenbogen in loving memory of Mirella Levinas, the late wife of our Chair Emeritus, Dani Levinas, making it doubly moving as a work of art. I am inspired by how the Phillips can be a place—a home—for contemplating people, lives, and ways of living and thinking from the past, and also play a role in enriching how we see ourselves today.

What is your favorite DC spot?

The 9:30 Club, and if you run into me there, I apologize in advance for my un-director-like behavior.

Leading The Phillips Collection Into Its Next Century

Dorothy Kosinski, Vradenburg Director and CEO of The Phillips Collection, will conclude her tenure at the end of 2022. Following 15 years of distinguished leadership, she will be named Director Emerita. Here, Dorothy reflects on her time at the Phillips.

Dorothy Kosinski at the Phillips’s 100th Birthday Party, November 2021. Photo: Ryan Maxwell

How do you think the Phillips has changed over the last 15 years?
During my tenure, the museum has moved outside its walls—it has become more engaged with and responsive to our communities, to the art of our time, and to the urgent issues that confront our society today. This is probably most apparent in our satellite space at THEARC in Southeast DC. But it is also clear in our growing collection that embraces diverse voices from across our nation and the world. We tell stories from Kinshasa, Congo; from Sitka, Alaska; from New Delhi, India; from Harlem; and from Washington, DC. We tell a more complex and global story about modern and contemporary art. Additionally, the Phillips is engaged in constructive conversation about migration, climate degradation, art and wellness, the threat of war, and women in the arts. At the same time, we model the most serious scholarship and conservation inquiry about our 19th- and 20th-century holdings to continuously advance new knowledge and new perspectives on our historic core collection. Of course (and greatly accelerated since the pandemic), our museum races to stay in advance of the demands for technological portals and digital assets in order to achieve immediate, transparent, and in-depth access.

The Phillips is not isolated and our work reflects the enormous changes in the field. I think I will paraphrase my esteemed colleague Lonnie Bunch who said that the museum is not a community center but must be at the center of the community. That pretty much sums up the thrust and direction of this change. Additionally I will point to a book that just came out Change is Required: Preparing for the Post-Pandemic Museum containing my own essay (among 47 others) entitled “Purpose Is the Only Thing.” I think that, too, captures the essence of our efforts.

Workshop at Phillips@THEARC led by artist Janet Taylor-Pickett, February 2020

What makes the Phillips special?
The Phillips has a very precious and distinct character—intimate and accessible because of its domestic scale; personal and idiosyncratic because of its genesis as a private collection; deeply rooted in the immediate community and yet acknowledged globally for its expansiveness and excellence.

What are your hopes for the Phillips’s next century?
The Phillips was out ahead in its focus on issues of diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion. My hope is that this work only deepens, and that these values continue to permeate and drive all of our work and initiatives across the museum as they do now. That is the responsibility of the next generation of leaders and trustees.

Installation view of Seeing Differently: The Phillips Collects for a New Century, featuring (left to right) Alfonso Ossorio, Excelsior (1960), Richard Pousette-Dart, Totemic Transcendental (1982), Aimé Mpane, Maman Calcule (2013), Photo: Lee Stalsworth

What exhibitions and programs are you most proud of?
It is so hard to choose a favorite exhibition. I think the exhibition that I co-curated with my dear colleague Dr. Klaus Ottmann on Jackson Pollock, Alfonso Ossorio, and Jean Dubuffet (2013) was groundbreaking in its scholarly framing of an artist who had been unknown and underappreciated for so long. More recently, the project conceived by my esteemed colleague Dr. Adrienne L. Childs, Riffs and Relations: African American Art and the European Modernist Tradition (2020), was visually and intellectually exhilarating in its presentation of a complex and multi-layered story. I am very proud of our annual Artists of Conscience series; that has been one of our primary platforms for exploring the tough and knotty ideas in the art world and society at large. Most importantly, it is the artists’ voice that we center. I am inspired by our Art and Wellness initiatives that bring us in meaningful and impactful dialogue with children, veterans, and older adults. Empathy and resilience are the values at the heart of this work.

What is your favorite work in the collection? A work that is not as well known?
That’s an impossible question for me! I adore Manet’s Spanish Ballet (1862). I also love Simone Leigh’s No Face (Crown Heights) (2018). A work you might not know? For that I’d choose Aaron Maier-Carretero’s Not In Front of the Kids (2020) that we purchased from our juried invitational exhibit during the Centennial.

What are your plans after the Phillips?
I plan to exhale! I serve on the boards of directors of two foundations as well as on the National Endowment for the Humanities National Council, so I am pretty busy as it is. I am in the midst of several conversations framing my role at other organizations that allow me to offer my knowledge and experience in impactful leadership. I am also investigating fellowships and residencies that will allow me to return to some long postponed as well as new curatorial and scholarly projects.