The Legacy of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay

Wilhelmina Holladay in the Great Hall of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. (Photo: Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post, via Getty Images)

I was saddened to learn of Mrs. Holladay’s passing last week. Wilhelmina Cole Holladay (1922-2021) founded the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 1981, an important institution that is a critical part of the Washington, DC, museum community. As the director of a museum that started as a private collection rooted in an individual’s vision, I cannot help but reflect on certain parallels. Duncan and Marjorie Phillips were supporters of contemporary artists, especially American artists, and with a determination to amass America’s first museum of modern art, shaped by their own unique taste and predilections. Mrs. Holladay was frustrated by the dearth of attention to women artists and was determined to focus her collection on their art, and to build a museum to give them center stage. Both collectors and museum founders required vision, focus, and determination, as well as a profound belief in the importance of art in our society. Mrs. Holladay’s project resonates more and more strongly today as a prescient view of how astonishingly neglected the artistic production of women was, and the continued struggle for equality today. I had the honor of meeting Mrs. Holladay several times and was always impressed by her seriousness and old-world dignity. We have deep respect for the impact she had in her life, and hope that The Phillips Collection can help continue her legacy by championing women artists in our galleries and beyond.

Celebrating 100 Years of Connection, Conversation, and Art

America’s First Museum of Modern Art at 100

Dear Friends,

A 100th anniversary is surely a time for joy and celebration, and we look forward to marking this major milestone with exceptional exhibitions and meaningful programs in collaboration with our community.

However, at this particular moment in our nation and in our city, we are keenly aware of our museum as part of a vital network of educational institutions that underpin our democracy. Our mission is to use the power of art to spark connection, build empathy, and catalyze ideas. While we are not politically aligned, we are by no means neutral. We have a responsibility to meet this moment, and to play our role in nourishing conversations around urgent topics and encouraging constructive debate.

Our mission is tied to a commitment to diversity, equity, access, and inclusion. The dynamism and impact of our next chapter will depend on our capacity to champion women, artists of color, and marginalized voices, to open up the canon of modern and contemporary art and history to artistic expression that reflects our complex world. We are here to serve, engage with, and learn from our community.

This is a moment for reflection, critical examination, and charting new direction. Duncan Phillips founded the museum with tender and lofty ideals: as a place of solace and healing, and as an “experiment station.” How can we live up to those ideas and be truly inclusive and welcoming? How can we remain dynamic and relevant to the art and ideas of our times?

We embrace this challenge as we mark this momentous anniversary, and look forward to welcoming you all to join in the conversations and the celebrations.

Dorothy Kosinski, Vradenburg Director & CEO

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.