Oxymoronically, art museums can be incredibly alienating places. Often high strung, tense, even comically pretentious buildings that have more to do with the architect’s ego than the display of art. Whatever happened to that Teutonic edict ‘Form follows function’? Seems when it comes to the task of housing the world’s greatest emblematic creations of humanity, all signs of humanity, and human scale get eliminated. Bring on the megalithic atrium, order more polished stone, glass, and concrete.
Most of these places leave me feeling like Robert Duvall trapped in the white void in THX 1138. It’s enough to leave you wishing ill will on some A-list architect in the afterlife.
Thankfully there is an exception to this rule in the Phillips Collection. The Phillips Collection has undergone not one, but two major expansions since opening to the public in 1921. Somehow they’ve managed to keep egos in check and hire sober designers. People who have maintained the human scale to the place, and it’s gallery rooms. Keeping the wonderful hardwood floors. With the addition of a few furniture pieces, you could live here. Little wonder since the original structure was in fact the Phillips home until the museums needs forced them out in 1930.
The overwhelming majority of art is of a residential scale. There is limited need for monumental scaled rooms. I can recall seeing a Monet show in Chicago that had more hay bales and church facades than probably anybody since Monet had ever seen in one place at one time. All hung in one vast white room. Some portion of a billion dollars worth of art looking like so much unused postage. It’s an insane scenario that’s repeated over and over again all over the country. Thankfully, not at the Phillips.
Similarly the Phillips Collection gives thanks to the hired help in the "James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show." Comprised of 43 works as varied as any other group show around. Of particular note, Leslie Paulette Brown has a wonderful black and white photograph, which looks like a Ray-ograph, or similar technique. It’s a complex abstract image of what one imagines are milk drippings. Whatever it is, and however it’s made, it’s cool and worth the trip downstairs to see it. It’s the one image I would say truly deserves to be shown upstairs.
Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street NW, Washington, DC. Museum Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Sunday Noon to 7 p.m. (202) 387-2151, or see www.phillipscollection.org.
Speaking of museum staff, Hugh Phibbs is a framer at the National Gallery of Art and every bit as knowledgeable about all things archival as you’d expect. I’m always thankful when I can pick Hugh’s brain about some vexing “archival” question. I usually wind up with far more information than I bargained for. Suddenly realizing I didn’t even know how much I didn’t know.
Surveying the archival offerings at the local art store, often puts us in a state of near total brain lock as we desperately try to determine the best option based on the minimal, or non existent, packaging info. Pre-glued linen tape? Pressure sensitive linen tape? Photo corners? It’s enough to make you want to take up accounting. What passes for “knowledge” rivals 13-year-old locker room rumor. Three friends tell you the same thing, so it must be true…. guess again.
Thankfully Hugh has committed a portion of his considerable knowledge to paper, and it’s available to YOU for free at www.pictureframingmagazine.com/articles/ai_supppage.html#pres. See “Annual Preservation Supplements” for a series of eight articles by Hugh. Check around this web site for all sorts of other framing articles. Looks like a great resource tool. Thanks Hugh!
Exchange: Richmond at DC (Twisted Roots)" is at DCAC Through December 10. This latest section of the Washington Project for the Arts/Corcoran art exchange series, brings the work of Richmond, VA artists to Washington. The Baltimore version was the most disappointing show I’ve seen all year. Maybe because I had such high hopes and expectations for it. So it was with some trepidation, and dread that I entered the DCAC gallery space. Thankfully this show is everything it should be.
DCAC is rather cramped quarters, so it’s a small show by necessity, but it’s quality we’re after, and this one delivers. It’s the best show I’ve seen all week.
News reports from Richmond over the past few years leave some of us wondering if the Civil War is really over down there. So it’s little surprise to see about half the works here dealing with race. Having said that, it was the work of four women that I found the most intriguing. Heide Trepanier’s ‘Bloated With Fear’ semi-abstract mural might be better titled ‘contagion exchange’. You won’t be too keen on puckering up immediately after viewing this one. Sonya Clark has several hair themed pieces, but the 84" long photograph of a dread lock, titled ‘Long Hair’, seems the most textural and entertaining. Taliaferro Logan has a series of close up photos of body parts temporarily tattooed with pressure markings on skin. And the interactive award of the week goes to Caryl Burnter for her "Locks of Hair.." and "Lipstick Blots..". Both works are autobiographical spanning decades. You are invited to add your lipstick blot on provided napkins, assumedly to be used in future assemblages. All in all it’s a fun show.
DCAC is at 2438 18th St. NW, Washington, D.C. Gallery Hours are Wednesday through Sunday 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Call (202) 462-7833, or see www.dcartscenter.org.