The Phillips Collection

There are just a few museums where I can be reasonably assured of seeing work by every member of my painter's pantheon (Goya, Daumier, Whistler and Rothko) in a single visit -- and the Phillips Collection is one of them. For quite a few years now, it's been one of the primary stops on each visit to DC, so I became a member some time ago. This is the first chance that I've had to get there since the renovated Goh annex opened, and they're inaugurating it with the marvelous Calder Miro show. These two have been among my very favorite artists for very many years, and I've seen quite a bit of their work over time, but had never thought of a connection between them. Turns out they were dear friends who worked closely together and who extended their range of ideas by their collaboration. Once it is pointed out to you, the links are very obvious, and the curators have done a fine job of arranging the show in such a way as to highlight those relationships.

Typically, when I go to see a show, if I have time, I go through it twice. On this visit, it was the Calders that grabbed my attention on the first pass, and on the second I was more absorbed by the Miros. (Perhaps I need to try to get there one more time today or tomorrow before I leave town). Of all of the astonishing work, it was the six (?) constellations by Miro that I found most breathtaking. I've seen individual examples from that set, but seeing a group of them together, and seeing how they relate to each other, was quite a remarkable experience. The color washes are tremendously pleasing and absorbing, and the patterns of dots and swirls and images on each are exhilirating in their movement and life. Interesting to find out that he painted them in response to impending war and out of fear that the Nazis would make it impossible for him to paint. One fights against the darkness with deliberate joy.

Between my two passes through the show, I took time for the permanent collection which, as always, is a matter of stepping from room to room, past masterpiece after masterpiece. And one is always startled to see a famously familiar painting and to realize, oh yes, this is where this one resides.

The only minor disappointment was that the Rothko room has not been reinstalled yet. I was a little disconcerted, because I had saved that for last, but when I went to the area where the Rothko room used to be, I found that the gift shop has been placed there. I asked at the desk on the way out and the girl there assured me that the Rothkos would be reinstalled, although she was a little vague about where and when. So when I got home, I emailed the PR office to see if they can give me clearer information.

I'd gotten to the museum feeling worn out and weary from the intensity of the last few days. As I crossed the street toward the entrance I wondered if I even had the energy to really look at the work. Two hours later, I emerged refreshed, enlivened, rejuvenated, bubbling with happiness.