Woody Internship at the Phillips Collection: Week 2 In Review

This week I continued working on the Pippin project—the master list of Horace Pippin’s exhibition history is progressing nicely. I returned to the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery Library to comb through the rest of the records held in DC regarding Pippin. I looked through the files of numerous institutions, including the…

San Francisco Museum of Art
Institute of Modern Art, Boston
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
Corcoran Gallery of Art
Carnegie Institute
Rhode Island School of Design Museum
Newark Museum
Dayton Art Institute
National Gallery of Art
Albany Institute of Art
Society of the Four Arts
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Whitney Museum of American Art
American Federation of Arts

…to name just a few! I’ve also been in contact with curators, archivists, and librarians at several of these institutions on the hunt for exhibition catalogs/checklists not held in local DC archives. Most of the people I emailed responded quickly, often with photos of the lists I sought.

Institution files at the Smithsonian's American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery Library

While the files, themselves, don’t look terribly exciting, they were filled with cool records

In search of a particularly obscure checklist from the Second Annual Exhibition of Colored Artists of West Chester held at the West Chester Community Center (in West Chester, PA in April of 1945), I ended up calling the community center, itself, to see if they had any leads. Sure enough, I was put in contact with someone conducting research on the founder of the community center who happened to have a newspaper clipping describing the exhibition.

Some of my other attempts at securing checklists were less successful. The San Francisco Museum of Art put on a solo exhibition of Pippin’s works in 1942, and because no institutions in DC have copies of the checklist, Anne suggested I contact the San Francisco Museum (today the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) to obtain a copy. The show included 31 of his works, so it’s  important that it be included in the master list.

However, the SFMoMA (and its library/archive) is closed for expansion. So even though we know that the records for its 1942 Paintings by Horace Pippin exhibition exist (in Folder 33 of Box 16, to be precise), it is inaccessible until “early 2016.”  Not willing to accept defeat, we checked with the Barnes Foundation (Philadelphia) and the Frick Collection (NYC) to see if their archives had any records on the San Francisco exhibition… but they didn’t. So for now, we’ll wait. Anne might be able to access a copy in the Metropolitan Museum when she moves to NY for a new fellowship there later in the summer (…assuming the Met has a copy).

 

***

 In addition to working on the master list, I’ve begun pursuing some smaller historical-inquiries related to Pippin:

– The first relates to his painting titled Quaker Mother and Child. This painting was (/is) attributed to the later part of Pippin’s career, considered to be executed around 1944. However, a curator at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum (which owns the painting) has recently re-dated it to “ca. 1935-40.” Anne is curious to learn more about this re-dating, citing the similarity of Pippin’s composition and painting techniques in Quaker Mother and Child to other paintings completed in the mid 1940s as evidence that it should not be re-dated. I’ve contacted the curator at RISD with questions about her reasoning behind the new date… but she has not yet responded.

Horace Pippin, Quaker Mother and Child, 1935-40 or 1944

Horace Pippin, Quaker Mother and Child, 1935-40 or 1944

– The second relates to Horace Pippin as a public figure.  A correspondence concerning Pippin (*but not to/from Pippin) has revealed that he was interviewed on the WDAS radio station in Philadelphia in 1942. Granted, it’s unlikely that a recording of this interview survives for a number of reasons: it was the 1940s and it was the middle of WWII. And Pippin was celebrated among art collectors…but he wasn’t exactly a national celebrity.   BUT it certainly would be cool if we could get a copy of the recording—or even just a transcript of the interview. So I’m trying to see if that is possible. Even if it’s not, I hope to learn about the target audience of this radio interview/ radio show to find out who would have been listening to a radio interview with a black artist in the 1940s. I’ve contacted WDAS (which is still a Philly radio station) and a Philadelphia radio historian about possible leads.

– The third is less of a historical inquiry and more of a social/cultural context inquiry. One day this week Anne and I went to see Pippin’s Domino Players on display in one of the Phillips Collection’s galleries. She gave me both the “official” story on the work as well as insight from her own research.

Horace Pippin, Domino Players, 1943

Horace Pippin, Domino Players, 1943

This was my first time seeing one of Pippin’s paintings in person. On day 1 of my internship, I was told that photography doesn’t do Pippin’s work justice, and it’s true. Delicate details and nuances in the paint color do not come across in the photograph of this painting (but I’ve included it here anyway).

 

***

 Outside of my Pippin research, several interesting things went on at the Phillips Collection. I met Klaus Ottman, the Director of the Center for the Study of Modern Art & Curator at Large. One morning I attended the weekly All-Staff meeting with Eliza, where representatives from the different departments gathered in the music room to discuss the week’s events and goings-on.

One afternoon I attended a brown-bag lunch talk on Picasso’s The Blue Room in the Center Studio by one of the Phillips’ conservators.

Left: Picasso's The Blue Room, 1901 Right: Infrared image of The Blue Room, revealing an unidentified portrait

Left: Pablo Picasso, The Blue Room, 1901
Right: Infrared image of The Blue Room, revealing an unidentified portrait

In addition to learning about her research on the painting, I was introduced to an emerging field of art history: Technical Art History, which is very intriguing—it’s an interdisciplinary approach to the study of art (involving art historians, scientists, conservators, etc.) that considers how different materials and techniques are used to express an artist’s concept/intention, and what these materials/techniques reveal about the circumstances of a work’s production. Technical art history forges (an often-absent) dialogue between curators and conservators. It’s fascinating!

On Wednesday afternoon I joined Anne on a walking tour of Washington DC monuments presented by a fellow at the Smithsonian Institution. He had a great deal of insight on both the sculptural merit and the contentious political contexts of the planning that went into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the MLK Jr. Memorial, and the World War II Memorial.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Contemplating MLK Jr. as he contemplates us; the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

Most of the people in the small tour group were also fellows at DC institutions, some of whom offered me valuable insight on planning for grad school based on my career goals. But that could (and will!) constitute a post in of itself, so stay tuned….