That Crazy Space: I’ve Made It!

I’m in DC, and I’ve brought a few things with me – a lumpy suitcase named Bertha, a few work outfits from Ann Taylor Loft, and the latent fear that the 40-hour work week will chew me up and never spit me back out.

Fortunately, I can report that the deep-seated dread I have felt in association with some previous jobs I’ve held has disappeared in the face of the Phillips Collection. Instead, I feel different emotions entirely. I’ve discovered a newfound hunger for inspiration, and rather than disconnecting from my work at every opportunity, I feel compelled to nourish that. This doesn’t mean that I sit at home pouring over the museum’s brochures every night. I haven’t built a shrine to our imaginative founder, Duncan Phillips (yet).

Rather, I’m finding that my consumption of culture, in all its forms, finds its way into my work one way or another. On Monday, I started the novel All the Light We Cannot See, and the blind girl’s story inspired me to enhance the experience of people with disabilities at the Phillips. Last night, I went to a restaurant and thought about how the flow of a menu can reflect the way people move through an art museum, and structure the choices that they make.

From everything that I’ve learned here so far, I think that the Phillips Collection would encourage that kind of thinking. They believe in combining all types of art – classic, modern, postmodern, American, European, Asian, sculpture, paintings, photography – with all aspects of culture – music, dance, theater, poetry, yoga, etc. This is a truly interdisciplinary space.

Furthermore, nothing here is static. Duncan Phillips liked to move artwork around so that the pieces are in constant “conversation” with each other, in combinations that are often strange and thought-provoking. Don’t expect to come to the Phillips and be given a map that will direct you straight to Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party (although I know that’s what you want to see). Chances are it’s not where it was yesterday. It’s probably having a new conversation elsewhere, say, with Paul Klee’s Figure of the Oriental Theater. And I can imagine that Renoir’s Parisian bourgeoisie is as speechless as you are.

A fitting illustration of my first week here was taking the Guided Gallery Meditation tour. In this, a yoga instructor speaks to you about the some of the pieces through your headphones, and for about 8-10 minutes, you fully immerse yourself in a meditative experience with the work. I was intrigued by this tour because it seemed like a rather intense form of engagement, which is what I hope to research while I’m here. I can say that, if you’re looking to understand more modern, abstract art, then you would benefit from this contemplative tour. I didn’t get Rothko before either.

I can’t wait to see what else this internship has in store for me. Duncan Phillips wanted the museum to be a “joy-giving, life-enhancing” experience. At least, that’s what it says in my shrine.


  1. Very insightful first post, Ms. Frenkiel. I am looking forward to visiting the Phillips Collection soon, and hope to be just as inspired by it as you are. I’m excited to read more about your experiences in the weeks to come!