Volunteer Spotlight: Jenna Chen

In this series, Manager of Visitor and Family Engagement Emily Bray profiles volunteers within the museum. Phillips volunteers are an integral part of the museum and help in many ways: greeting and guiding guests through the museum, helping with Sunday Concerts, assisting patrons in the library, helping out with Phillips after 5 and special events, and so much more. Our volunteers offer a wealth of expertise and experience to the museum, and we are delighted to highlight several them.

Jenna Chen, Art Information Volunteer

Jenna Chen

What year did you start volunteering for The Phillips Collection?

I started volunteering the summer of 2017.


What do you see as the most valuable aspect of your volunteering?

My favorite part of interacting with visitors is seeing how eager they are to share their previous experiences at art museums and the reasons why they are at the Phillips. Seeing how excited first time visitors are to stand in front of Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party enhances my volunteer experience. Volunteering at the Phillips is a wonderful opportunity to surround myself with art lovers.


What do you do when you are not volunteering at the Phillips?

As a biology and art history student at Georgetown University, I spend a decent amount of time in the library preparing for class. During my free time, I enjoy hiking and exploring DC with friends.


What is your favorite room or painting here?

My favorite painting here is Succession by Wassily Kandinsky. I just read Kandinsky’s book Concerning the Spiritual in Art, so I now understand his abstract art on a new level. I am still puzzled, yet fascinated by Succession. There is not a time that I walked by the painting without stopping to stare at it.


If you had to choose one word to describe The Phillips Collection, what would it be?



Share a fun fact about you!

Last semester, I studied abroad in London and took full advantage of the city’s free museums. I constantly lost track of time when wandering through the National Gallery, V&A, Wallace Collection, and Tate Modern. As an extroverted person, I found it surprising how comfortable I felt alone in these museums. I actually strongly prefer to visit art museums without others, and those are the only places where I like to be by myself.


Is there anything else that you would like to share?

Volunteering at The Phillips Collection confirmed that I am happiest when surrounded by art. I am now even more determined to pursue a career in art museums!

A New Artist in The Phillips Collection

Tobi Kahn, Lyie, 1991. Acrylic on board, 32 x 12 x 1-3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Gift of Victoria Schonfeld in memory of her parents, Hilde and Sydney Schonfeld. Photo: Klaus Ottmann

Last June The Phillips Collection acquired its first painting by the New York artist Tobi Kahn, Lyie (1991). It has now been installed in the spiral staircase of the museum’s Goh Annex. Given by Victoria Schonfeld in memory of her parents, the painting is one of Kahn’s most important paintings of his mature period when forms other than landscape, such as flowers, became a dominant theme. Like most of Kahn’s paintings, Lyie is built up of about 20 layers, beginning with modeling paste containing marble dust on top of white underpainting, followed by opaque paint layers, and finally, a layer of translucent washes.

Earlier this year, Kahn gave an inspiring keynote address at the Phillips during its Art & Innovation Design Gathering, an annual meeting of creative minds that is jointly presented by the Phillips and the University of Virginia.

This week Kahn was invited to speak at Georgetown University by the Program for Jewish Civilization. In conversation with Ori Soltes who teaches theology, philosophy, and art history at Georgetown University, Kahn spoke passionately about how he does not consider himself a Jewish artist or a painter or a sculptor, but just an artist; yet at the same time he cannot separate the knowledge of his Jewish heritage from art history. This combination undoubtedly contributes to Kahn’s unique style of painting that seems equally influenced by Jewish mysticism, such as the color symbolism of the Kabbalah, and the tradition of American modernism, so richly represented by The Phillips Collection’s holdings of Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

Toward the end of the conversation, Kahn expressed gratitude to The Phillips Collection for his painting being given such generous placement: “Artists always want to have more space, ” he added, “The Phillips Collection is the perfect space.”

Tobi Kahn in conversation with Ori Soltes at Georgetown University, September 20, 2011. Photo: Klaus Ottmann