We asked 100 Phillips friends to share a snapshot of a significant Phillips experience with us.
Come back often for new stories added throughout the year and share your own stories with #Phillips100
My connection to The Phillips Collection goes back to 1961, when my parents first took me to see Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. This image is of my mother, Corinne Szabo, holding me as I try to touch the painting. We’d make a point to see it every time we visited. Was it the convivial scene portrayed in the painting that kept drawing us back? Or the shared memory of my mother holding me as I tried to connect with the canvas? Though I haven’t lived in the Washington area for years, every time I’d visit my parents, a trip to the Phillips was always on our agenda. A stop by the Rothko Room was also important, as my mother studied with Mark Rothko at Brooklyn College in the early1950s. In more recent visits with the grandchildren, we’d push my mother up to The Boating Party, savoring its happy image together. My mother died on March 11, 2020. My next visit to DC will certainly include saying hello to The Boating Party. It won’t be the same without her.
Nancy Szabo, member
One summer day in the late 1960s a gangly teenager serving as a page in the Senate visited The Phillips Collection for the first time. He liked the house atmosphere of the building and saw a small abstract painting on a side wall, Arthur Dove’s Flour Mill II (1938). Somehow the picture acted as a stop sign—actually, a stop and look sign. More than 50 years later I seek out the painting when I am in Washington, both for its catalytic presence and as a reminder of my first real connection to art.
Richard Armstrong Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation
I have many memories of the Phillips and it has nurtured me most of my life. Foremost among them the days as a young law student I spent studying in various galleries of The Phillips Collection. In those days you could both smoke and read in the galleries. Both Duncan Phillips and Marjorie Phillips were often in the galleries and they often came over and told me to go and look at a new work that had been hung and that one or both of them would watch my books until I returned. This happened more than once and meant a great deal to me. I was treated as a friend and as I reflect back today at 85 I realize how real their friendship was as three people sharing perceptions and love of art. They have made meaningful the bridge that art afforded and the love of the sharing of that art.
Julia Norrell, collector
When John Rehm and I began dating, one of the very first places he wanted me to see was The Phillips Collection. In fact, I had never in my life been to an art gallery, and felt worried that I’d be intimidated. Instead, John and I walked into the warmest and most welcoming home―filled with art―I’d ever been in. In its quiet and peaceful beauty, I felt at once excited and at ease. It was quite an introduction to a world I’d never before experienced. And the fact that it housed the work of Arthur Dove, John’s uncle, lent additional excitement. I’ll never forget that day. And, like John, The Phillips Collection will always live large in my heart.
Diane Rehm, NPR
Growing up in a very conservative environment in DC was not easy for me. I dreamt in Technicolor while my days were filled with black and white. You can imagine my excitement when, at the age of sixteen, my entourage, who bleached my hair pink and dressed me in feathers, offered to take me to The Phillips Collection. We entered and I immediately felt like I belonged. We navigated the beautiful stairwell in the old building where a magnificent painting caught my eye. I fell madly in love! The painting was a Cézanne and at that moment I knew that art would be my passion for the rest of my life, and that beautiful things would surround me.
Sandra Gering, gallerist
“Belonging”…When the Phillips opened its gallery in Ward 8 at THEARC, a neighborhood place for all, it continued its legacy of “Belonging” to all communities. Its opening exhibition was a collection of photographs of the first African American Yacht Club in the United States whose history of seeking to Belong was celebrated. The Phillips acknowledged the labors and fortitude of the Seafarers Yacht Club, the Ward 8 Community acknowledged the community commitment of the Phillips, and the Double Nickels Theatre Company mounted the photographic collection celebrating the occasion. The cultural and community collaboration celebrated all of our “Belonging.”
Antoinette Ford, Double Nickels Theatre Co.
The first time I listened to Morton Feldman’s CD titled “Rothko Chapel/Why patterns?”, Mark Rothko’s paintings finally made complete sense to me. Standing in the Rothko Room at The Phillips Collection, I always see the atmospheric quality of Feldman’s music and whenever I listen to the CD while I’m working, I hear Rothko’s paintings. Visiting that Rothko Room at the Phillips allows me to reexperience that connection at any time. Now, I understand why Duncan Phillips felt that it was important to draw a correlation between visual art and music.
Renée Stout, artist
I moved to DC in 2003, and somehow, half the creative people I met seemed to work at the Phillips Front Desk. I loved coming in to the museum to scoop up my best friend from college from work, sneaking in a few quiet minutes (a commodity a person in their early 20s in DC doesn’t often have between roommates, work, metro, etc.) in the Rothko Room. It felt restorative, inspiring and deeply luxurious (feelings a person in their early 20s in DC doesn’t often have either) and I always felt a little stronger and calmer in the aftermath. Ever since then, and it has been almost 17 years now, I bring the room up to anyone and everyone who will listen, and they always thank me for introducing them to it or reminding them of it. Which just goes to confirm my theory that sitting in The Rothko Room, is art enjoyment in its purest form: there to nurture you and allow you space to be you. No matter when you find each other. So…thank you for being there.
Svetlana Legetic, Exactly Agency
There are many masterpieces from Renoir to Rothko at The Phillips Collection. My favorite moment is to go into a former closet and discover another world. The closet is entirely dedicated to the sight and smell of Wolfgang Laib’s beeswax installation. I go every time I can!
Tony Podesta, Collector
I’m not old enough to remember when Gertrude Stein gave her reading in the Music Room, but I do remember one evening in the Music Room when John Cage read his word portrait of Morris Graves with such thrilling guttural sound and fury that I thought it would raise the dead. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
Beth Turner, former Phillips Curator
I remember the day when I first visited The Phillips Collection vividly. It was right after I moved to DC in 2014. I fell in love with The Phillips Collection right away. I loved it so much that I dreamed of having my work shown at the museum one day. Four years later, my work has become part of the permanent collection of The Phillips Collection. It was a great honor to have my work shown alongside artists I had admired such as Alma Thomas and Richard Serra. I didn’t know that day would come so soon. The Phillips Collection will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you for making my wildest dream come true.
Nara Park, artist
I grew up visiting the Phillips on annual Washington trips. Artworks always hung in the same places; one always knew exactly where everything was. In recent years the Museum has reconsidered its mission. Artworks move and re-arrange. Curatorial visions forge new connections and illuminate new trajectories. The viewer sees with refreshed and startled eyes. And art being made today has joined the conversation. I love being part of this change. My most thrilling Phillips moment was standing in the great stairwell, hearing strangers consider my work, hanging there, among the masterpieces I have loved for so long.
Barbara Liotta, artist
Newly-weds, and new to Washington, my husband Lou and I lived on California Street. Every Sunday morning we took our newspapers and a thermos of coffee down the small hill to the Phillips, sat in one of the galleries on a brocaded sofa under some priceless paintings, read the papers and smoked cigarettes. The museum kindly provided ashtrays on the small side tables, and no one batted an eye. You could do that in the early 1960s. I’ve told that story to every Director over the years. Each one gasped. Then smiled.
Susan Stamberg, NPR
I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed my visits to The Phillips Collection but to choose one, I remember being totally awed by two large Richard Diebenkorns on either side of the entrance on the wall facing the room. Magnificent paintings to be sure , but also, turns out, perfect reminders of the passion and genius of the founding family. It is said that Duncan Phillips dedicated his life to creating a living memorial to his father and brother, both of whom died of the influenza. Seems those Diebenkorns were gifted to the Collection by my dear friends, Gifford and Joanne Phillips. Gifford was Duncan’s brother’s son.
Jill Cooper Udall, arts advocate
Walking into a building that houses the first modern art museum in the United States gives you a special type of thrill, admiration and gratitude to its founder. Being invited to install my work at The Phillips Collection was a great honor and very inspiring.
Shoplifter / Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir, artist
I became a member of The Philips Collection Contemporaries Program after receiving an unexpected invitation by a bride (I was her wedding musician :) Although it seemed crazy at the time, it turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made. The Phillips Collection has provided me with art and experiences that has saved my life on a daily basis. From the art acquisition program, an engaging schedule of diverse cultural and social events, private tours, special exhibition openings, social gatherings, virtual meditations and more, I have developed a deeper appreciation and love for art and America’s first museum of modern art. I have also made many friends along the way! I am so proud to be a member of The Phillips Collection family. Here’s to 100 more years. I am confident that the best is yet to come!
Dana K. Morgan, Contemporaries Steering Committee member
We are pacing back and forth at an airport cargo arrival area waiting for our brave four-month-old puppy who took an airplane across the country by himself to arrive. Creamy wrinkled skin and beautiful eyes looked at us. That was almost six years ago. Ever since, he is our family member, studio mate, and our soul. When I installed my installation at The Phillips Collection I realized that the color and shape of my work is pretty much like a Moxie! We named him Moxie and he is a force of nature. He always gives us great joy and has guided us through this extremely difficult time.
Jae Ko, artist
Many years ago I visited the Phillips with a good friend. My friend, an infrequent museum visitor, told me he could not recall an aesthetic experience and held a general under appreciation for the visual arts. I remember walking into the gallery where Renior’s Luncheon of the Boating Party was hanging. My friend was transfixed. I stood next to him. After a pause he said to me that this painting was amazing—everyone seemed alive, he could speculate on who knew who, the smells in the air. He was having an aesthetic moment! One painting can change a life.
David Cronrath, Associate Provost, University of Maryland
Cezanne’s Jardin at Les Lauves. Bonnard’s Open Window. De Kooning’s Asheville. Dove’s pepper grinder of some sort. Klee’s Arab Song. Davis’s Egg Beater. Pollock’s painting with tissue paper. Mondrian’s painting with a little red bar crossing three black lines. Rouault’s clowns (in the music room). Braque’s landscape with a bit of rain. Matisse’s Egyptian Curtain. Van Gogh’s public garden. Diebenkorn’s big blue window. Picasso’s blue room with a poster. Soutine’s two kids on a windy road. Gauguin’s steak. Courbet’s cliff. Ryder’s moon. Rothko’s room. I apologize to the ones I am forgetting.
Harry Cooper, Senior Curator and Head of Modern Art, National Gallery of Art
In the 1980s, the small staff was permitted to watch the uncrating of works of art, something that is forbidden today, when only the curators, preparators, and conservators are allowed that privilege. The paintings must have a day or two to acclimate to the conditions (temperature and humidity) of their new environment, and conservators inspect the paintings to make sure that they have not been harmed during the shipping process. I will never forget the joy experienced by all of us as a stunning Bonnard from a French museum was unpacked/liberated from its enormous crate. It was included in a major exhibition of Bonnard’s paintings in 1984.
Karen Schneider, Phillips Head Librarian
Artist Richard Diebenkorn used to visit The Phillips Collection when he was a young Marine stationed in Quantico, Virginia. His favorite painting there, and a great influence on his own painting, was Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel. Decades later, an elderly Diebenkorn walked into the Phillips. Exhibitions Manager Bill Koberg recognized him, and walked up and said that the painting he was looking for was not on view, but would he like to go up to the storeroom to see it? I happened to walk into the storeroom and found Diebenkorn and Bill quietly pondering the Matisse. A true Duncan Phillips moment of the appreciation of a great painting with “no fanfare.”
Shelly Wischhusen, former Phillips Chief Preparator
The Phillips Collection is my favorite museum since my days at Howard University. As a mom, I wanted to merge jazz with activities the whole family could enjoy. I called Dorothy Kosinski in 2009 and Jazz ‘n’ Families Fun Days was born, an annual celebration of jazz and the visual arts including performances in the music room, kids making art, gallery talks revealing new installations, and a lively instrument petting zoo. It’s a perfect partnership between DC Jazz Festival and The Phillips Collection. My kids now 18 and 15 return each year, Jacob Lawrence’s Migrations Series is a favorite.
Sunny Sumter, DC Jazz Festival
One of my fondest and most enduring memories of The Phillips Collection is also one of my earliest. I was there as a high school student, around 1992, when Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series was first united. We were going through the museum’s archives, when Mr. Lawrence and his wife Gwendolyn Knight walked in. To be learning about this work and have the artist himself stroll in unplanned was a deeply awe inspiring moment, and one that couldn’t have happened in that way at any other museum.
Hank Willis Thomas, artist
I just love the Phillips! Since the 1930s, they actively supported the work of Washington area artists through purchase and exhibition. Many of them are women and artists of color. In this centennial year the tradition continues and many works by local artists are once again―or always have been―on display. What a great and wondrous museum.
Beverly With, collector
For my exhibition From Here On Now, I chose and installed paintings from the Phillips alongside my own sculptures. What a dream it was to think about Guston’s finger-pointing hand and Madam Cézanne’s folded fingers and then to hang them close. To discover newly arrived Forrest Bess paintings, and then to install those jewels with Arthur Dove, Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis, and others that struck me as Bess’ likely and unlikely spiritual relatives. To paint a wall in vibrant blue worthy of floating a Matisse, and then play hide and seek with my paper sculptures. I was forever changed by my time spent with this stellar collection.
Arlene Shechet, artist
My husband and I attended a GoGo concert at the museum and it was one of our favorite experiences at the museum. We both thought it was unexpected but exactly the kind of event we would like to attend. And who would have thought you could eat Ben’s Chili Bowl in the museum!
Shakira Pollard, Contemporaries Steering Committee member
An extraordinary memory was having my work, And She Was Born, hang next to the work that inspired it―Henri Matisse’s Interior With Egyptian Curtain. A recalled memory doesn’t even match the feeling in the moment, and to have the presence of mind to actually BE present. It was such an honor for the Phillips to purchase And She Was Born to become part of their permanent collection. I feel so very fortunate, happy and proud to have had these moments of late February 2020 to look back upon while being sequestered at home for the next nine months plus.
Janet Taylor Pickett, artist