Punk Life to Circus Life

Though last week was shorter (thanks to July 4th), it was still packed with Phillips-style fun and a couple of fantastic field trips. With visits to the Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and a punk-inspired Phillips after 5, this week full of fun made it easy to come back to work after a long weekend.

Coming back to the Phillips Collection after a flurry of fireworks for the Fourth left me rather exhausted, so I was glad to carry out some simpler tasks last Wednesday. As I continued my work updating the curatorial archives, I was pleased to see my work pay off when a couple of curators came upstairs to do some research. Up until this point I had never actually seen anyone use the archives, so I was happy to know that the documents I help preserve are put to good use. Earlier in the week I also got to help the director’s office assistant by printing and assembling materials for Board of Trustees manuals. Getting the materials organized was surprisingly soothing, and again reminded me of the importance of museum governing bodies.

Thursday started off with a rainy morning, but it was perfect museum weather! My supervisor and I got to tour the Sackler Gallery with a lovely docent who showed us as much of the museum as possible (much of it had already closed in anticipation of its three-month renovation). This tour was my first visit to the Sackler Gallery and I must say I was truly blown away. Most of the museum is underground, where it connects to the Freer Gallery and African Art Museum, yet I never felt as though the building was lacking in light or liveliness. We first saw theĀ Inventing Utamaro: A Japanese Masterpiece Rediscovered exhibition, which brought Utamaro’s three largest works together for the very first time since their creation. The exhibition compared the three monumental works with other works by Utamaro and his contemporaries which highlighted the fantasy of the ideal woman. One of my favorite parts of the exhibition was the “reality check” at the end which contrasted the lives of Japanese “courtesans” against their idealized counterparts. By checking the reality against the fantasy, I thought the exhibition gave a uniquely holistic view of its subject not often found in other art exhibitions.

The second exhibition that we toured at the Sackler Gallery was Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan, which also differed greatly from what I consider a typical art exhibition. First of all, visitors are encouraged to touch the artwork that they see, since the pieces on display were commissioned with this specific use in mind. The exhibition highlights the progress made by the Turquoise Mountain project, which seeks to rebuild traditional crafts in Afghanistan by bringing Afghan refugees back to their homes and villages where they can teach and produce traditional crafts so that their traditions and culture are not lost. Seeing all of the progress made through this project – from the number of restored buildings to newly educated craftsmen – was incredibly uplifting, and I highly recommend this exhibition to anyone visiting D.C. this summer or fall (the exhibition will remain open during the rest of the museum’s renovation).

After a truly inspiring visit to the Sackler Gallery, I got to start a new project at the Phillips Collection using a new software. My task was transferring information from a rough checklist into File Maker for an upcoming exhibition. While I have already worked with a few checklists this summer, I was excited to see the next step in the curatorial process by working with File Maker. I was equally excited to find any information the checklist was lacking since my previous experience has made me more comfortable with this type of curatorial research.

Thursday proved a busy day for me as well as the Phillips Collection as five o’clock rolled around and the museum prepared to “punk out.” July’s Phillips after 5 event was inspired by theĀ Markus Lupertz exhibition as it explored musical and cultural themes relating to post-war Germany. The event featured a silent disco with three channels corresponding to three different areas in the museum. In the Lupertz exhibition itself, event attendees could listen to classical German music, a sophisticated choice which fit well with the sophisticated gentleman who is Markus Lupertz. On the main level, attendees could tune into some dance music and bust a move out in the courtyard with some wine and cheese in hand. In the lowest level of the museum, listeners got to experience a bit of post-war German punk culture by tuning into the punk channel on their headsets, listening to a live punk band in the auditorium, and taking an unforgettable photo in front of a poster spray-painted with the message: Punk Out! Overall, the event was a ton of fun and a huge success; it was especially fun to see the museum reaching out to a new audience with its punk persona.

On Friday, I wrapped up a few of the projects that I had started earlier in the week and soon headed off on another field trip with my supervisor, this time to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall. Neither of us had ever been to the festival before, despite being locals, so we were excited to look around both from a museum professional and tourist perspective. This year’s festival theme was Circus Arts, which provided plenty of show-stopping events fit for the festival’s 50th anniversary. As my supervisor and I walked past storytellers, acrobats, and food vendors, we considered the choice of Circus Arts in comparison with past festival themes, musing about the universality of circus culture given the multicultural lens used for the festival’s programming. We finished the day in the Big Top, watching an amazingly talented youth circus troupe performing a series of acrobatic scenes based off of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Despite the short work week, I gained a wealth of information this week by working and observing the cultural events and institutions that make D.C. thrive. I can’t wait for my upcoming adventures, and I can’t wait to share them all with you!