It’s Just a Sweet Art Installation

Beyond the Luncheon of the Boating Party at the Phillips Collection

A visitor assesses the wax room at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

A visitor assesses the wax room at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

We can pretend all we want that our visit to the Phillips Collection is to appreciate the Rothko paintings, but we know as we climb the stairs, shuffle through the galleries, wonder if we really like the more contemporary additions to this museum that used to be a home to some old steel barons, calculate the movement of merchandise in the gift shop, wait in line for some cappuccino at the café, that what we are really here for is Renoir’s Luncheon, of course. As we meander through what used to be a great date excursion in the District of Columbia and even now is a less crowded alternative to the National Gallery of Art, we are amused by more experiential additions to the collection, such as Wolfgang Laib’s Where have you gone –where are you going?, our first introduction to formal olfactory art.

 

Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Some of us are tempted to lick the sweet-smelling walls of beeswax, but then we think about how many school kids might have been here and done just that and about how often the beeswax lining the walls and the ceiling of what looks like a closet is refreshed, which leads us to wonder, as city kids, what the difference between beeswax and bees’ honey is, how the bees produce one and then the other, and the more practical among us ask whether this particular installation attracts nonhuman visitors who might also be interested in Iicking the walls, and we try not to compare the skill needed to create the Luncheon with the skill needed to create the wax room, and then we riff on whether art is product or art is ideas and whether we’d feel differently if each of the installations was scented, which, if they were, could make us appraise those Rothkos entirely differently.

 

Phillips Collection, 1600 21st Street NW (21st and Q Streets at Dupont Circle), Washington, D.C.20009

—Lori Tripoli

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