Woody Internship at the Phillips Collection: Week 10 in Review

Poster for a Federal Arts Project exhibition (1936). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Poster for a Federal Arts Project exhibition (1936). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This week I conducted more research on case studies of Process Art for Suzanne at CASVA. I continued looking into Edith Halpert’s involvement in the Federal Arts Program, the 1937 Index of American Design exhibition at the Downtown Gallery, and the Index of American Design project, in general.
Index of American Design exhibition at Downtown Gallery, 1937. Photo courtesy of the Archive of American Art.

Index of American Design exhibition at Downtown Gallery, 1937. Photo courtesy of the Archive of American Art.

There are several arguments for the classification of the Index project as Process Art. Most obviously, the WPA’s purpose in instigating the program concerned not only the final product (to be used as a record of American design), but also with the creation of that product (namely, the employment of artists between 1936-1942). Additionally, in creating the the Index, the artists engaged in the construction of an “American” identity. It is important to realize that the artists followed specific guidelines in the selection of art-objects to record. For example, objects produced by Indians/Native Americans or by recent immigrants (incl. southern and eastern Europeans) didn’t make the cut. The national/regional administrators of the project sought to capture a very specific vision of America in their Index of American Design.
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In addition to working on the Folk Art aspect of this project, I helped Suzanne find resources for another part of the project concerning the artist Agnes Martin, an American abstract painter closely associated with New Mexico and famous for her canvases of grids, geometric shapes, and lines. Suzanne is interested to learn more about Martin’s representation at the Elkon Gallery in NYC and the Wilder Gallery in LA, so I investigated the whereabouts of these galleries’ archives.
Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1961. Image courtesy of Pace Gallery.

Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1961. Image courtesy of Pace Gallery.

Martin, Untitled, 1977. Image courtesy of the Soloman R. Guggenheim Museum

Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1977. Image courtesy of the Soloman R. Guggenheim Museum

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On an semi-related note, one day this week at the Phillips’ library, I had the chance to chat with one of the librarians about a letter from Stuart Davis (represented by Halpert since 1927) to Duncan Phillips. The librarian had fished the letter out of the archives for a researcher, and it just so happened that I was in the library to hear about it. In the letter, Davis thanked Phillips for his recent purchase of one of his canvases, saying how he used the money to purchase a studio space. He explained that it would offer him the first chance to paint outside of his bedroom in six years! He also mentioned how he was having difficulty selling his works to other major collections. I didn’t ask when the letter was dated, but I imagine it was early in his career, before he was represented by Halpert at the Downtown Gallery.
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It is very strange to think that this was my final week at the Phillips Collection. I am very grateful to Eliza, Anne, and everyone I’ve worked with at the Phillips for keeping me busy with interesting projects and welcoming me into the Center. I am also especially grateful to the Woodys for their sponsorship of my internship. This was a fantastic experience, and I sincerely hope that this collaboration between William & Mary and the Phillips will continue in the years to come.
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My experience these past 10 weeks has confirmed by aspiration to pursue a career in museums. It has also helped me reconfigure my grad school plans. Talking with Anne and other postdoctoral fellows has helped me realize that the path to working in curation will ultimately involve pursuing a doctorate in Art History. Whereas I had initially toyed with the idea of entering a master’s program in Museum Studies & Curation after graduation, it is pretty clear to me now that such a terminal degree would not land me a career as an art curator. (Art curators don’t study curation–they study art. This realization was less of an “aha!” and more of a “well, duh.”)
…So, to anyone out there who’s been following these blog posts, I’d give the Woody Internship at the Phillips Collection 5/5 stars. Check back in August for a link to my Pippin Compensation project…

 

Comments

  1. ehchen01 says:

    This was such an interesting read. I’ve actually volunteered at a woodworking museum before. However, I never connected with my work as clearly as you have. Best of luck in the future! You have so much passion.