Most of the time, Duncan Phillips, the founder of the Phillips Collection, is irrelevant to the average visitor. Although he created the museum, and put his stamp on its core holdings, one needn’t bother too much with his legacy. He died almost 50 years ago, and it’s the art that matters, not the collector. And rich people, after all, can buy art so promiscuously that it inevitably seems, in retrospect, that they were particularly ingenious on betting on all the right horses.
Author Archives: Philip Kennicott
It’s not clear why a woman is swimming with a pig in Texas, or what overturned the tricycle in the desolate suburb of Albuquerque, or whether the dwarfish man in New York who looks menacingly at the woman in the dark hat is angry, or hungry for an assignation. The photographs of Garry Winogrand, on view in a comprehensive retrospective of his career at the National Gallery of Art, give only enough information to establish which pieces are on the chess board, but we don’t know who is playing, if anyone is winning, or whether there’s a game on at all. It’s possible, like the pattern waves make on the beach, that this is all random, undirected and meaningless.
Recent leaders of the Corcoran Gallery of Art complained of its location on 17th Street NW, off the Mall and far from the National Gallery of Art and the principal venues of the Smithsonian. But in 1859, when William Wilson Corcoran broke ground on the first home of the Corcoran — the ornate red-brick building that now houses the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery — proximity to the White House was part of the new museum’s essential message.
If the Corcoran Gallery of Art had to be swallowed up by a larger and healthier institution to survive, we might celebrate Wednesday’s announcement that its collection will be devoured by the National Gallery of Art. The National Gallery is hands down the most prestigious and respected steward of fine art in Washington, and its reputation is international. But this is not a swallowing of the Corcoran — this is the end of the Corcoran and its final dismemberment.
Ordinarily, one would cheer heartily for the decision that was announced Tuesday morning at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library: The architectural team of Mecanoo and Martinez + Johnson has been chosen to renovate and perhaps enlarge the historic but troubled main branch of the city’s library. Mecanoo, a Dutch-based firm, will play the lead design role, and it will bring to a city of buttoned-down corporate and institutional architecture a stylish European aesthetic that could have a major impact on the city’s downtown core.
The three architectural firms invited to submit proposals for renovating and possibly expanding the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown Washington presented their ideas Friday to an invited audience at the National Building Museum. Saturday, they will do the same for a public audience at the library, and a decision on which team will be asked to do the project will be announced Tuesday.
As 2013 came to an end, the art world took stock of its remarkable fortunes: Leading auction houses announced records for total sales, as new wealth and new collectors clamored for art and collectibles. For the fourth year in a row, Christie’s broke its own record, with more than $7 billion in sales. And they were still giddy from one day in November when they sold almost $700 million of art.
Cultural concepts are always fuzzy, but that doesn’t make them useless. We may never know the exact beginning or end of Romanticism or the Gilded Age, or where lies the line between art and entertainment, or what distinguishes great talent from genius. But that doesn’t make those concepts hollow, just fluid and approximate.
The curators of the National Portrait Gallery exhibition “American Cool” came up with 100 names with which to define the concept. But they didn’t stop there. How could they? The idea is so powerful yet amorphous that there’s almost no containing it. So they also came up with another 100 names for a supplemental list (in many cases including people who would have been in the top 100, but for want of a truly iconic “cool” photograph).
They were friends and colleagues, and they deeply admired each other’s art. But an important exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, opening May 11, argues that the relationship between the older French artist Edgar Degas and the younger American artist Mary Cassatt was not that of teacher and student, or master and imitator. Rather, the influences flowed both ways, with Cassatt playing an important role in introducing Degas to American collectors.