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Everybody Is a Genius ...but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. --Albert Einstein

photos and editor - Donna Christenson

Soy Isla is the first museum retrospective of Cuban artist Zilia Sánchez (b. 1926, Havana). The long-overdue exhibition examines the artist’s largely unknown career that spans almost 70 years, featuring more than 60 works including shaped canvases and paintings alongside illustrations, design sketches, and ephemera. The exhibition traces Sánchez’s artistic journey from her early days in Cuba and her move to Puerto Rico, where she now lives and works. Sánchez’s works reference female heroines from ancient mythology, motifs of lunar shapes, erotic topologies, and tattoo drawings.

The exhibit continues through May 19 at The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009

photos - Donna Christenson

Irene Esteves, University of Puerto Rico, (center) discussed the importance of Zilia Sanchez' work and shared personal anecdotes based on her interviews with the artist.

Zilia Sanchez Symposium

at The Phillips Collection

In conjunction with the first museum retrospective of Zilia Sánchez, The Phillips Collection organized a symposium to discuss Sánchez’s work in a broader context. The first part, In Context, featured presentations by prominent art historians that frame Sánchez’s work within the trans-national development of modernism in Cuba, the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. The second part, Curatorial and Scholarly Perspectives, discussed the positioning of Sánchez’s work in museum collections and scholarly research. The third part, Legacy, introducesd Sánchez’s former students (and now accomplished artists), shedding light on the preservation and conservation of the artist's stretched canvases, and touching on current issues in the field of Latin American art.

Taiwan Celebrates the 130th Anniversary of Its DC Estate With

Magnificent Display of Beautiful Taiwanese Orchids!

By Cary Pollak with photos by Donna Christenson

On display at the entry to the estate was a beautifully crafted canoe made of nine kinds of wood from Lanyu, Taiwan’s “Orchid Island” named after the Taiwanese Orchid species Phalaenopsis amabilis. The passengers on this canoe were a colorful variety of unique blooms bred by Taiwanese orchid experts.

TECRO, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, serves as Taiwan’s diplomatic presence in the United States. It recently celebrated the 130th anniversary of Twin Oaks, its luxurious 18.24 acre estate in Northwest Washington, DC, by inviting guests to a reception that featured a breathtaking display of orchids that were as grand as the estate itself. The event was co-sponsored by The Taiwanese Council of Agriculture and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan). The intricate landscaping was created by the Taiwan Association of Orchid Production and Development.

In attendance at the opening reception on September 27 were representatives of the diplomatic corps, the local business community, think tanks and the press. Stanley Kao, Taiwan’s representative to the United States (photo left) observed that “Twin Oaks is a symbol of friendship and strength of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship,” and explained that the estate “has a storied history, both for sharing the culture of Taiwan and the United States, and also for bearing witness to key historical events in this long and mutually beneficial partnership.” Taiwan’s flourishing orchid industry was well represented by the president of the Taiwan Sugar Corporation (“Taisugar”), Mr. Yu-Chung Huang (photo right), who also addressed the guests at the opening ceremony.

Taisugar hoped to make a sweet business move in the late 1980’s by going into the orchid business and creating new hybrids starting with native Taiwanese plants. Today they are one of the largest orchid producers in the world and they continue to produce new hybrids with regularity. The United States is the number one importer of Taiwanese orchids, absorbing 32% of that nation’s huge output annually.

Another stunning display on the grounds of the estate was comprised of a bed of orchids surrounding a narrow winding stream carrying floating cups. Overlooking the display was a famous sample of ancient writing, the Lantingii Xu, penned in the third century by well known calligrapher Wang Xizhi. The message is a preface to a collection of poems created during a drinking game which required the poets to write while imbibing cups of wine that floated to them on the stream. Wang is said to have attempted to revise his work at a later date because he created it while inebriated. He ultimately determined that he could not improve on the sublime beauty of the original.

The 26 room Twin Oaks mansion was built in 1888 and is one of the oldest examples of Georgian Revival architecture to be found in the United States. 98 years later, in 1986, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The original owner was Gardner Greene Hubbard, founder of the National Geographic Society and father in law of Alexander Graham Bell. He named the estate after two beautiful trees that stood near its entrance. The property has been occupied by its current owners, the Republic of China government since 1937 and is filled with priceless Chinese antiques. TECRO has cared for the property lovingly and did a beautiful job of decorating the estate with orchids for its 130th birthday.

THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION ANNOUNCES RE-OPENING OF HISTORIC HOUSE

AFTER YEAR-LONG RENOVATION PROJECT


WASHINGTON—The Phillips Collection’s historic house galleries will officially open to the public after being closed for a year-long renovation project. The original home to Phillips Collection founder, Duncan Phillips, will reopen with a housewarming celebration on Thursday, June 21, at 6 pm.

Since May 2017, the original 1897 building of The Phillips Collection has been undergoing renovations designed to preserve and enhance the building’s historic character and migrate the house gallery spaces to a fully digitized temperature and humidity control system. A penthouse level with a mansard roof which mirrors that of the original building was added to house the new HVAC equipment, enhancing its anticipated useful life.

The architectural design for the project was developed by Bowie Gridley Architects, and Mueller Associates served as mechanical engineers. The general contractor was Consigli Construction Co. Inc., the firm which also renovated portions of the Renwick Gallery.

“We are approaching an exciting milestone in 2021 when we will commemorate our centennial. These upgrades to the essential control systems governing the temperature and humidity within the museum will ensure the protection of our collection and the enjoyment of our visitors for years to come,” said Phillips Director Dorothy Kosinski. “We are so grateful to Consigli Construction for their valuable partnership with us on this project.”

Modernist design elements were incorporated throughout the gallery spaces along with light-filtering window systems designed to heighten the protection of the works on view. The fire protection system was also enhanced. Farrow & Ball gave in-kind contribution of paint, and consultation about historically appropriate wall papers and paint colors throughout the house. Architectural enhancements in the gallery spaces will be most notable in the Phillips Music Room, which features upgraded wall paneling to improve sound quality and the attendees’ experience for the many music events in the space, most notably the museum’s renowned Sunday Concert series. The house galleries also exhibit a fresh hang of works of art, enhanced in-gallery information provided by our curators that will enrich our visitors‘ experience, as well as improvements to access for disabled visitors.

The other buildings of the museum remained open to the public during the renovations. Popular exhibitions such as Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party and Ten Americans: After Paul Klee were on view during the closure, and the museum’s award-winning educational programs continued apace. In February 2018, the museum opened a new space in Southeast DC at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus, Phillips@THEARC.

ABOUT THE PHILLIPS COLLECTION

The Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of Modern art, presents one of the world’s most distinguished Impressionist and American Modern art collections. Including paintings by Renoir and Rothko, Bonnard and O'Keeffe, van Gogh, Diebenkorn, Daumier and Lawrence, among others, the museum continues to actively collect new acquisitions, many by contemporary artists such as Wolfgang Laib, Whitfield Lovell, Zilia Sánchez, and Leo Villareal. Its distinctive building combines extensive new galleries with the former home of its founder, Duncan Phillips. The Phillips’s impact spreads nationally and internationally through its highly distinguished special exhibitions, programs, and events that catalyze dialogue surrounding the continuity between art of the past and the present. Among the Phillips’s esteemed programs are its award-winning education programs for educators, students, and adults; well-established Phillips Music series; and sell-out Phillips after 5 events. The museum contributes to the art conversation on a global scale with events like Conversations with Artists and the International Forum. The Phillips Collection values its community partnerships with the University of Maryland—the museum’s nexus for academic work, scholarly exchange, and interdisciplinary collaborations—and THEARC—the museum’s new campus serving the Southeast DC community. The Phillips Collection is a private, non-government museum, supported primarily by donations.


William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master

A "Must See" Retrospective at The Phillips Collection

by Barbara Bennett and Donna Christenson

William Merritt Chase’ playful oil painting titled “Hide and Seek” has long been a favorite, and we were delighted to view the original, along with a full range of more than 75 of his other works currently featured at The Phillips Collection in a retrospective commemorating the centennial year of the artist’s death. What better example to illustrate the title of The Phillips exhibition, “William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master”. In his Washington Post review, art critic Philip Kennicott questioned whether Chase should be called a “Modern Master” since his work has long been considered conventional and impressionistic. However, one look at “Hide and Seek”; “A City Park”; “The Young Orphan”; and one of his last efforts, his “Self Portrait”, leaves little doubt that in his life’s work Chase went well beyond impressionism. Take away the people or objects in these oil on canvas paintings and you are stunned to see large blocks of color reflecting economy of space and perspective seen later in the likes of a Rothko painting.

Another example of a Modern Master at work is his oil composition “Portrait of Dora Wheeler”, featured with the exhibition’s curator Elsa Smithgall in the photo at right. Chase combined his superb depiction of textured fabrics in the gold-toned background tapestry and his very whimsical inclusion of the black and white cat so seemingly out of place in the left hand corner of this serious portrait rendition. He definitely was forward thinking in his painting, much like other more-recognized and classified Modern Masters who painted in the modern period from 1860 until 1950.

Chase’s oil paintings are stunning and certainly worthy of this long overdue retrospective, but it is his surprisingly intense pastels that really set him above others of his generation. “Spring Flowers (Peonies)” is exquisitely rendered with his strong use of red, white and green pastels. This lovely partial profile portrait of an elegant woman in Asian dress draws us to her serene essence and mood. “May I Come In” is another pastel treasure on exhibit where we see large surfaces of color, a shimmering copper urn and gold leaf picture frame, rich textures on wall hangings and furnishings with lots of tassels, and then, partially hidden by the door, the image of a beautiful woman hesitating at the entrance.

All photos by Donna Christenson

In addition to his own paintings, whether in oil or pastel, there also should be no doubt that William Merritt Chase was an innovative and extremely influential teacher who spearheaded the advancement of American Modern art through his students of the next generation. In an adjacent annex, The Phillips is featuring works from its own permanent collection by well-known former students such as Georgia O’Keefe, Edward Hopper, Marsden Hartley, John Marin and Joseph Stella. William Merritt Chase taught at all of the best art schools of his time, including 12 years at the Shinnecock Summer School of Art, the largest plein-air art school in America. Impressively, many of his well-regarded paintings were created in a single session as he demonstrated amazing virtuosity in techniques to his students. Perhaps as important to his imprint on Modern art is his legacy school, the Chase School of Art, which later was renamed the New York School of Art and has evolved to become part of what today is known as The New School’s Parsons School of Design. Located in New York City, it ranks as one of the top art schools in the United States. The current exhibit William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master is co-organized by The Phillips Collection, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Fondazione Musei Civici Venezia and the Terra Foundation for American Art. This impressive exhibit was five years in the planning and execution, with countless hours of cooperation between three principal representatives: Elsa Smithgall, curator of the special exhibit of The Phillips Collection; Cary Haslett, PhD Program Director, Exhibition and Academic Grants at the Terra Foundation for American Art and Erica Hirshler Croll, Senior Curator of American Paintings Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The retrospective will be featured at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC until September 11, 2016. It will then move to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from October 9, 2016 until January 16, 2017. Finally, the exhibit will travel internationally in February 2017 to the International Gallery of Modern Art in Venice, Italy.