Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens The Phillips Collection
Washington, D.C.
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The Phillips Collection
1600 21st Street NW
Washington DC

America's First Museum of Modern Art


Ten Americans: After Paul Klee

Moving Forward, Looking Back

Women of Influence (Part II): Elmira Bier, Minnie Byers, and Marjorie Phillips



Ten Americans: After Paul Klee
Through May 6, 2018

Ten Americans: After Paul Klee explores the seminal role of Swiss-born artist Paul Klee (1879–1940) in the development of mid-20th-century American art. The exhibition sheds new light on important figures in American Abstract Expressionist and Color Field painting who adapted aspects of Klee’s art and ideology into their own artistic development. Featuring more than 60 works from collections in the US and Switzerland, the exhibition is the first to feature Klee in dialogue with William Baziotes, Gene Davis, Adolph Gottlieb, Norman Lewis, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Jackson Pollock, Theodoros Stamos, Mark Tobey, and Bradley Walker Tomlin.

Swiss-born German artist Paul Klee (1879–1940) was a successful painter and an inspirational teacher at the experimental Bauhaus School and Düsseldorf Academy of Art. By 1933, however, the market for his art collapsed when the Nazis purged his work from Germany’s state-owned museums. Many of Klee’s artistic comrades and dealers fled Europe for New York, but Klee and his wife, Lily, returned to his hometown of Bern, Switzerland.

While Klee himself never joined his peers across the Atlantic, his works traveled there in great numbers, stimulating an enthusiastic reception by a young generation of American artists who, after the horrors of World War II, were searching for an art form removed from the external world. In Klee, they found a liberating example of an artist who drew upon many ideas gaining currency in the international artistic avant-garde, including the art of indigenous cultures, the power of symbolic language, the method of working from the unconscious, and an interest in probing nature’s invisible forces. Klee’s stylistically diverse body of work resonated with American abstract artists searching for a new personal language of expression.

The ten Americans featured in the exhibition did not seek to emulate or copy Klee’s style, nor did they all necessarily cite Klee as a direct influence; each encountered and drew upon Klee’s art and ideology in various ways. By considering the synergies between Klee and the ten Americans, this exhibition highlights the pivotal transatlantic exchange between Europe and the United States that helped shape the course of modern art.

The exhibition is accompanied by a scholarly catalogue, published by The Phillips Collection and Zentrum Paul Klee in association with Prestel, featuring color plates and essays by the curatorial team and outside scholars Katy Siegel, Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Endowed Chair in Modern American Art, Stony Brook University, and Elke Seibert, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the German Center for the History of Art (DFK) in Paris. Catalogue available in the museum shop.

The exhibition is organized by The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, and the Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Switzerland.

The exhibition and its publication were made possible with support from the Terra Foundation for American Art.

This exhibition is supported by Altria Group.

Support for the presentation at The Phillips Collection was provided by the Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts, the Ednah Root Foundation, and Eric Richter and Charles Shoener.

Brought to you by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.

The "Klee Room"
Klee builds himself a little house of art in a realm somewhere between childhood’s innocence and everyman’s prospect of infinity.—Duncan Phillips, c. 1938

More than 80 years ago, in 1930, The Phillips Collection’s founder, Duncan Phillips, acquired the first work by Klee for the museum, Tree Nursery. With this purchase, the Phillips became the third museum in the United States to own a work by Klee, joining the Detroit Institute of Arts and New York University’s former Gallery of Living Art.

Phillips soon became a stalwart champion of Klee’s work in the United States. Between 1930 and 1953, he assembled 13 of Klee’s finest works in oil and watercolor spanning the artist’s career—a strong unit that remains a cornerstone of the museum’s permanent collection. Phillips organized a Klee solo exhibition in 1938 and a memorial exhibition in 1942. Over the following two decades, as Klee came to occupy a central place in the collection, his art became a prominent feature of numerous group and solo exhibitions and permanent collection installations, attracting increasingly receptive American artists and visitors.

Committed to bringing Klee’s art to a larger audience, Phillips placed his work on nearly continuous view after 1948, in what came to be known as “the Klee room” at the Phillips. “The Klee room” served as an abiding source of inspiration for the generation of American abstract painters working at midcentury, especially for Washington, DC-based artists Gene Davis and Kenneth Noland. In the words of writer Barbara Rose: “No one who has ever lived in Washington . . . can ever forget the impact of the Klee room at the Phillips Gallery.”

Moving Forward, Looking Back
A Collection Still in the Making: Selections from The Phillips Collection Archives
Through December 31, 2018

In the 1960s, Phillips altered the Main Gallery, giving it an appearance that reflected the modernist aesthetic of the time. He removed the architectural details that had been in the room since its inception. A large work by Bradley Walker Tomlin occupies the center wall, surrounded by paintings by Arthur Dove, Jackson Pollock, and Henri Matisse.

The Phillips Collection was established in 1921 by Duncan Phillips (1886–1966), heir to a steel fortune, in his family’s 1897 house in historic Dupont Circle. Phillips never sought to establish a comprehensive survey of styles or movements, nor to exhibit the collection as a whole. From the outset, the museum has been dedicated to the idea of modernism as a dialogue between the past and the present, without restrictions on geography, nationality, or time period, embracing its founder’s vision to be “an intimate museum combined with an experiment station.”

Moving Forward, Looking Back presents a selection of photographs, exhibition announcements, Christmas cards, letters, journals, and more from the museum's archives that reveal the how The Phillips Collection has been an “experiment station” for nearly 100 years.

Women of Influence (Part II): Elmira Bier, Minnie Byers, and Marjorie Phillips
Through December 30, 2018
Reading Room, Lower Level 1

Women of Influence: Elmira Bier, Minnie Byers, and Marjorie Phillips (Part II) examines the critical role that each woman played in the day to day activities of The Phillips Collection over six decades.

This refreshed installation features correspondence, postcards, photographs, and telegrams from the Phillips's archives.

Elmira Bier
Elmira Bier, who graduated from Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, was Duncan Phillips’s executive assistant from 1923 to 1972. Fiercely protective of Phillips’s time, Bier took on many responsibilities, including serving as the first director of the music program, beginning in 1941. Despite her lack of formal training, Bier quickly established a widely acclaimed concert series that highlighted new performers and innovative music, which paralleled Phillips’s support of contemporary art. An article about Bier’s role at the Phillips stated that “she ran the place.”

Minnie Byers
Minnie Byers was a powerful executive before women played that role. With a background in in business and knowledge about the stock market, she saved Phillips from the crash of 1929 by advising him to put his money in real estate. She started working for the Phillipses in 1918, initially providing financial advice to Duncan’s mother and later becoming treasurer of the museum. Byers commented, “I have a problem with Duncan. I can’t tell him how much money we have. He’ll go and spend it on works of art.” She warned Phillips not to pay too much for art, saying, “I invested their money wisely.” Byers retired in 1963.

Marjorie Phillips
Marjorie Phillips (1894–1985), a painter who studied at the Art Students League in New York, was integral to the formation of The Phillips Collection. She became co-founder of the museum following her marriage to Duncan Phillips in 1921. Duncan relied on his wife’s artistic insight in making acquisitions. Marjorie gradually took on more responsibility for exhibitions in the 1960s as Duncan’s health declined. Despite her many obligations as director after Duncan’s death in 1966, Marjorie stated, “I was happy as long as I had some time to paint every day.”

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