The Scoop: The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., is the oldest modern art museum in the United States. The museum has developed a reputation for supporting experimental and exciting artists in America and beyond over the last century. In addition to celebrating contemporary art, the museum also engages the community with a music series, lectures, and “Phillips After 5” events on the first Thursday of every month. Couples interested in the arts often enjoy creative and fun dates at the museum.

Couples in Washington, D.C., don’t have to look far for a culturally rewarding date night. The Phillips Collection, a modern art museum, offers a range of experiences, from art to music to meditation.

As a visual art venue, The Phillips Collection houses works from some of the most famous artists in history and many contemporary ones. The museum’s collection features transcendent artists, including Georges Braque, Grandma Moses, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Rufino Tamayo. The museum acquired many of its most notable pieces before the artists were famous, demonstrating the curatorial staff’s uncanny ability to identify talent.

The Phillips Collection logo
The Phillips Collection features modern art from historical and contemporary artists.

Contemporary creators often feel inspired by the museum’s pieces. For example, the museum’s ongoing series “Intersections” invites a working artist to create pieces that interact with the museum’s permanent collection and spaces.

Puerto Rican artist Marta Pérez García, who is based in Washington, D.C., recently installed her Restos-Traces exhibition. It includes 19 headless female torsos constructed from handmade paper, wire, hair, teeth, nails, metal spikes, and film negatives. The exhibit, created during the COVID-19 pandemic, raises awareness of how stay-at-home orders also increased domestic violence.

“Intersections” pairs Pérrez-Garcia’s work with two permanent pieces from the collection: Francis Bacon’s painting “Study of a Figure in a Landscape” (1952) — a painting that emanates loss, anxiety, and frailness — and Annette Messager’s “My Little Effigies” (1989-90) — an installation with stuffed animals and handwritten text that expresses anger, laughter, and reconciliation, according to the museum website.

Couples can also plan dates to view these exhibits after work during “Phillips After 5” events on the first Thursday of each month. This series has been on pause due to COVID-19 but will resume later this year.

Celebrating Its 101st Anniversary

In 1921, Duncan Phillips, a philanthropist from a well-to-do family, opened The Phillips Collection. Both Duncan and his brother were interested in art from a young age, and the brothers encouraged their parents to set aside $10,000 a year to collect contemporary American paintings.

Then, tragedy struck — both Duncan’s father and his brother died in quick succession. In response, Duncan opened the museum as The Phillips Memorial Art Gallery on the second floor of their home and displayed the 237 works he and his brother had collected.

Over time, Duncan grew the collection and developed The Phillips Collection with his wife, painter Marjorie Acker. By 1930, the family moved out of their original residence so it could be used solely as a museum.

Eventually, The Phillips Collection is America’s first modern art museum and it is famous for Duncan and Marjorie’s unique curatorial style.

Photo of exhibit at The Phillips Collection
The collection’s unique curation style continues to guide its exhibitions.

“Duncan Phillips was noted for his willingness to deviate from the art museum standard of displaying works together based on shared nationality and geography, interpreting modernism as a dialogue between past and present,” according to the museum website.

This philosophy remains part of the museum’s mission today.

As part of the museum’s centennial celebrations, Vradenburg Director and CEO of The Phillips Collection Dr. Dorothy Kosinski wanted to highlight how the curatorial team was still at the forefront of the art world. The museum recently presented “Picasso: Painting the Blue Period,” an exhibition of art from 30 international collections featuring 70 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by Picasso and French and Spanish artists he studied before and during the Blue Period..

“The exhibition highlights how the Phillips is leading the field with our conservation technical studies and scholarly research, demonstrating how this kind of close examination leads to new discoveries,” Kosinski said.

Hosting Live Music and Educating Visitors About Modern Art

In addition to its commitment to the visual arts, The Phillips Collection also hosts live music and lectures. Couples who don’t live near the museum can also experience the events from their homes, as the museum recently introduced streaming capabilities.

Phillips Music offers a way to bridge the gap between art and music. The Sunday Concert series, put into motion by Duncan Phillips, has run for more than 80 years. The Music Room, the museum’s intimate concert space, is acoustically pleasing for chamber music.

In 2021, Phillip Music also incorporated a centennial celebration theme.

“In the spirit of Duncan Phillips’s belief that the experience of art and music were closely entwined, recent programming and special new music commissions in 2021 have explored the cross-currents and intersections between musical performance and the visual arts. Curated artwork from the permanent collection in the Music Room often speaks to the lively dialogue between these two complimentary art-forms,” the museum said.

For example, French-Lebanese composer Benjamin Attahir wrote an oboe piece called “Al Maghrib (Red Run)” inspired by Joan Miró’s 1950 painting “The Red Sun.” The composition weaves “together the influence of Arabic harmonic language with stylistic references to the Spanish baroque tradition,” according to the museum website.

The museum also has regular lectures that art-loving couples can appreciate together. During the “Picasso: Painting the Blue Period” exhibition, for instance, the museum invited renowned curators from the United States and Canada to discuss how the “seven-year research project has transformed scholars’ understanding of one the most celebrated episodes of 20th-century modernism.”

The Phillips Collection: A Museum for the Community

The Phillips Collection has always been responsive to community needs — from the early 20th century to today.

It offers many programs that benefit educators, students, and adults. The Summer Teacher Institute is a partnership with the University of Maryland that invites teachers to integrate art into their lessons.

Photo of The Phillips Collection exterior
The Phillips Collection allows the community to connect with art through activities, including concerts and workshops.

“In this week-long teacher institute, in collaboration with The Phillips Collection and University of Maryland, explore how we each bring our own perspectives to everything we do. Engage in critical thinking exercises, slow looking at art, and artmaking activities to inspire meaningful personal connections when teaching with art,” the museum said.

The museum explores the connection between art and meditation in its weekly Guided Meditation series. Yoga teacher Aparna Sadananda leads sessions each week via Zoom.

“Each Wednesday, inspired by a calming artwork from our permanent collection, we will practice techniques for mindful looking and thinking that we can carry with us wherever we are,” the event description reads.

The museum also has a satellite campus in Southeast D.C. to bolster conversations and connection with communities there. The Phillips Collection’s workshop and gallery at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus (THEARC) hosts exhibits, workshops, and events.

Black artist Wesley Clark’s “genesis” installation is currently on display as part of the museum’s centennial commissions.

“Transformation as a concept is a series of creative choices. These many individual decisions reflect the various changes that are occurring in Southeast D.C., i.e., the increase in health and family services and the investment in community beautification. Collectively, these changes can lead to a unified renaissance taking place East of the River. The work mirrors the ability for the community to exercise transformative and creative change, defining its direction forward,” Clark writes.

The Phillips Collection is intent on preserving its legacy through its diversity initiatives, music performances, and eclectic events. And it can maintain its status as a can’t-miss date spot for another century.

Photo credit: © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York