Washington Life Magazine
Washington Life Magazine

Expanding the Dream

In 85 YEARS, the Phillips Collection has come a LONG WAY. Former chairman LAUGHLIN "LOC" PHILLIPS explains why.

Laughlin Phillips, 1988

When its doors open to the public on April 15th in order to welcome back Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party" along with other European masterworks after a four-year international tour, visitors to the Collection will also be viewing for the first time the museum's expanded space.

Although he resigned at 78 as the Phillips' chairman of the board in March 2002, Loc Phillips springs into action when talking about the museum's latest renovations. Without skipping a beat, he's in PR mode: "The opening of the Collection's new building will give it a host of exciting new resources, including expanded exhibition space, a sculpture court, a 180-seat auditorium, a roomy and accessible art library, and news classroom facilities. The improvements will not only enhance existing museum programs, but serve as resources for a long-awaited Center for the Study of Modern Art. It marks a new high in the realization of my father's efforts to share his intelligent appreciation of exciting developments in the art of his time."

Loc knows the museum better than anyone- it was opened in 1921 by his father, Duncan Phillips, as the first American museum of modern art. By the time of Duncan's death in 1966, he had amassed a collection of more than 2,000 works by the predecessors of modern art, such as Ingres and Delacroix, by impressionists and post-impressionists including Monet, Renoir, Cezanne and Gauguin, and by a wide range of 20th-century artists such as Picasso, Giacometti and Jacob Lawrence, as well as more recent figures such as Mark Rothko and Washington's own Morris Louis. But despite the range and quality of its holdings, the Phillips was for many years a very modest institution, displaying its growing collection in the domestic setting of the family's Washington home.

Duncan, Marjorie, and Laughlin Phillips on the steps of their home, Dunmarlin, on Foxhall Road, 1932.
Main Gallery in 1927.

"He wanted to create a relaxed, informal museum where people could easily interact with the artworks, sensing and savoring their essence," says Loc. "One of our challenges over the years has been to maintain this special atmosphere while at the same time refitting the museum to meet high professional standards and reach its full educational potential. The new building has been planned in that spirit."

Another challenge has been the creation of the Center for the Study of Modern Art, an initiative which Loc championed for over fifteen years. "It's not easy to gain support for such an ambitious project in a city like Washington, where there is a panoply of other worthy, needy arts institutions," he says, "I applaud the accomplishments of the present director, Jay Gates, his staff, and the generous and dedicated board of trustees, led by George Vradenburg.

The house at 21st and Q Streets, NW, 1900.
Marjorie and Duncan Phillips in front of Renoir’s“Luncheon of the Boating Party” (1880–81), 1954


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