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).

Announcement from The Phillips Collection Archive

Phillips Manager, Archives and Library Resources Juli Folk and former Digital Assets Librarian Rachel Jacobson share the new Finding Aid for the Directorial Correspondence of Marjorie Phillips.

The Phillips Collection Archive is pleased to announce that the Finding Aid for the Directorial Correspondence of Marjorie Phillips is available online. This was one of three archival collections that was imaged as part of a stewardship grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

To learn more about archival digitization please see the latest installment of Archives 101, Expanding Research Capabilities.

This collection is particularly exciting as Marjorie Phillips often does not receive the credit her leadership deserves. Museum visitors have seen her paintings (Night Baseball is often on view) and wondered what relationship she had to the museum and to Duncan Phillips. She and Duncan Phillips established the museum and its renowned art collection together.

Painting by Marjorie Phillips (1951). Marjorie Phillips not only ran the museum from 1966-1972, she was also an accomplished painter.

The correspondence in this archival collection spans her tenure as museum director, 1966 to 1972. She is also featured in some of the letters that make up The Directorial Correspondence of Duncan Phillips (1911-1966). This archival collection was also digitized as a part of the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant.

Through the newly implemented archival information management system, ArchivesSpace, you can access a description of Marjorie Phillips and her correspondence collection and click on images to bring you to full, digital versions of the folders that make up this collection. You can browse all 9,913 Digital Objects on the system. These objects are digital representations of the folders that make up three collections in The Phillips Collection Archive. One goal of this project is to make these records more accessible and spark new curiosity about the documents, some of which are over 100 years old.

Photo taken at the retirement party for Marjorie Phillips October 18th, 1972. Marjorie stands with former employee Bill Koberg and Mike Green. In the background is her son, Laughlin Phillips, who directed the museum after Marjorie.

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.