The Philippa Collection D.C.'s top arts patron ponders a future without gallery parties

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No wonder: Hughes herself has trouble determining whether the Pink Line brand and her individual person are divisible in a meaningful way. She works alone, with the help of part-time interns. She also brings Pink Line into her home, where “Salon Contra” artist discussions usually draw a dozen or more people. It’s an exciting life, but it’s no way to run a business. And so now, with The Pink Line Project firmly established on Washington’s social radar, Hughes wants its organizational structure to grow up, too. What it needs next, she has decided, is a mission statement.


One evening earlier this month, Hughes assembles a dozen of her “mainstays” at her 14th Street NW condo to enjoy an appetizer buffet and champagne before heading to a gala that will celebrate the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s new contemporary exhibition program. The art-filled apartment is very, very pink. She has a swing that’s pink and a surfboard and laptop and scooter that are all pink. Hughes commissioned Cory Oberndorfer, a D.C. pop artist she has championed, to illustrate her walls, which he painted over with a giant, pink Hokusai tsunami wave. Artists Kelly Towles and Brad Chriss have both contributed murals. Another, Zach Storm, once stayed at her house to watch her cat for a week, and painted her ceiling while he was at it. Hughes is a serious enough collector to keep a makeshift storage system in her home for the work that she cannot display. But what she does show trends toward the extremely playful—and the pink.

At $150 per ticket, the Corcoran event attracts an elevated crowd. Hughes prices her own parties in the low double digits; often, they’re free. “How is an art party where people pay $10 or $20 to attend different from where they pay $150 to attend?” Hughes offers. “They still pay exactly the same amount of attention to the art. I doubt the people paying $150 are any more likely to come back to the museum.” In fact, the museum gala has a lot of overlap with Hughes’ warehouse party. There’s conceptual music—tonight courtesy of Bluebrain, an electronic duo performing a piece inspired by one of the evening’s featured artists, Spencer Finch. (Naturally, Bluebrain has done previous Philippa parties, most recently the one at the Phillips Collection.)

No matter where the Philippa parties take place, it’s also a pretty good bet that many of the party-goers don’t self-identify as members of the art world. For them, Hughes pretty much is the art world—or at least the gateway to it. At one point she refers to herself as the “ambassador” to that world. She also calls herself a “connector-person.” Of course, she’s sure to hang air quotes around both terms.

Some people, alas, don’t want to be connected. The Corcoran event, especially, draws some art-world Brahmins who don’t buy Hughes’s brand of populism. Izette Folger is one of them. Like Hughes, she is a member of the host committee. Unlike Hughes, she comes from Best Part of Waking Up money. After hearing that I’m writing about Hughes, Folger pulls me aside to describe a slight her sister, filmmaker Nora Maccoby, suffered at a Salon Contra event she helped to stage. Maccoby had arrived at Hughes’s home early only to find Hughes still in curlers, so to speak, noshing on pizza, says Folger. (Hughes says she missed the point: “That’s why it’s successful. Because there’s no pretension about it.”)

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“Sometimes the Internet can be a dangerous place that gives people a false sense of power,” Folger says, decrying the reach of social media in the hands of people like Hughes. “People follow these people when they have no background or education in art or architecture or literature or humanities. It’s a party crowd [that follows Hughes]. It’s not a group of intellectual or sophisticated people. They’re like party wraiths.”

Standing near a conveyor belt that delivers hors d’œuvres to the Corcoran party’s guests, Hughes deflects praise from half a dozen people who thank her for the ball. She is blunt, friendly and unfailingly smiley to each of them. “I didn’t do anything. I’m just here.”

The idea of mixing party and exhibition doesn’t bother Jeffry Cudlin in the slightest. As the director of exhibitions at the Arlington Arts Center, he’s worked with Hughes for the gallery’s best-attended events. “Wreckfast at Tiffany’s” led Cudlin, a Washington City Paper contributing writer, to “recognize the power of Philippa.” Some 900 people showed up for the graffiti exhibit. The cops shut down the opening. Hughes is now an AAC board member.

How to Throw Your Own Philippa Party

Hire Bluebrain

Bluebrain

A pointy-headed musical duo that can do as much with a concept and a video projector as they can with vinyl and turntables, Bluebrain is a plug-and-play act ready for the gallery or the warehouse. Alternate: Christylez Bacon

Invite Adrian Parsons

Parsons

An artist-type, musician-type, fashionable-type figure who appreciates the art of partying. Parsons runs with the Worn magazine and Brightest Young Things sets, but he also makes the gallery openings. Alternate: Kristin Guiter

Get PBR Sponsorship

PBR

Follow Hughes’ lead and befriend PBR’s creative-class outreach guy, Dan VanHoozer. VanHoozer can save you the schlep of a Costco run, eliminating the complex politics of drink selection. Alternate: Shiner Bock.

Bring the Gaitáns

Gaitans

Alberto and Victoria F. Gaitán will no doubt show up for discussion panels. As artists beloved in the community, they bring skills (he’s a tech wizard, she’s a portrait photographer) as well as credibility. Alternate: Andrea Pollan and Jeff Spaulding.

Don't Sweat the Location

Location

Your 14th Street condo, the Hirshhorn Museum, Textile Museum, the Freer and Sackler galleries, Comet Ping Pong, any old place will do. Alternate: Some other museum that isn’t busy that night.

Know an Administrator

Administrator

Jeffry Cudlin will not only bring you into the Arlington Arts Center family, he’ll also commission you for his own wonky projects—and even dress like you. Alternate: There’s no other Jeffry Cudlin.

Forget Artistic Purity!

Party Pooped: The real problem with D.C.'s elaborate art fiestas? They're boring.

Our Readers Say

Hey Vince Gray: Keep Gabe Klein at DDOT! That is all. Is there a FB campaign for this yet? Someone needs to start it.

And btw, they are just parties with some art and music sprinkled on top, everyone needs to calm down with the dissertations on all things pinkline related. haters are gonna hate. drink enough free PBR and its a good time.
Izette Folger seems to be a snob. I say you look at art the way you look at it. I don't have to have an MFA or be a rich collector to like something or enjoy "art". Art establishment, please reach back and pull the stick out of your tight, moneyed, intellectual asses.
I was excited to see Ms. Hughes on the cover of the City Paper, and then found myself wondering why Ms. Capps and Mr. Fischer chose to write such a pathetic pieces, slighting someone who has shed blood, sweat, and tears to make art fun, unpredictable, and accessible to all parts of the District. Philippa's work makes DC a better place to live, especially for those who live East of Rock Creek Park.
what kind of sales has phillipa generated for artists?
when she says"“I want people to stop thinking of me as a purveyor of objects. I’m not trying to sell anything,",
i wonder what is actually in it for the artists?
Booooorrrrrriiinnnnnnng. Who cares? Seriously -- a whole city to cover, and this is what you slap on the cover? WCP, you're killing me with this snoozer! Can we please get something more interesting this week?
collector - that's exactly the point. if benefiting artists amounts to 'exposure' plus the hours of underpaid labor artists spend working to help make one of these parties a success, you almost begin to wonder what the point is. Hughes's audience of young professionals enjoy the concept that they are enlightened urbanites who 'appreciate' art, but they don't have the mental capacity to recognize that no matter how many of these parties they attend, they're not actually supporting artists' efforts with their paid admission to an open bar party.

and for the arts people who are just fine with what pinkline does, it's vaguely misguided to just say that Hughes does so much, it's only a matter of others stepping up to compete with her in order to diversify the scene. it's that people who are not oriented towards the arts in DC think pinkline IS the DC arts scene, and her brand is so quantified at this point, you basically just expect a similar cast of characters in a different location every time. Maybe one day these promoters will see that a good art scene is one where art administrators empower artists take ownership of the image of DC's art scene, and help them to do so instead of cannibalizing all of the attention and resources for their own projects.

We need groups like to pinkline to promote the best artists and artwork being made in the area so that people who may not interested in art are talking about art together, not the party where it was. who are dc's breakout artists? let's talk about them!
Hughes is a parvenu, a sort of Michale Salahi of the art scene. She has about as much credibility as one might expect from a "surfer" from Richmond. She kind of pushed her way into the nascent Logan/14th St. art scene, copied other people's ideas, muddled about a bit, and moved on. Little was left better in her wake.
I found her utterly incredulous when actually trying to discuss art with her. She is simply a nouveau riche bored housewife who happened to move into a neighborhood where an art scene was trying to emerge. Next!


"they don't have the mental capacity to recognize...." Peter, you sound overly negative and crotchety. Dismissive statements like the ones you made don't do much to stimulate the kind of conversation you suggest should take place at the end of your comment.

I know of party attendees who do go on to buy art/music directly from the kinds of artists who are exposed through these types of events. That's a very direct form of supporting the arts. Others have attended artist talks and lectures as they grow their awareness of particular artists and the scene beyond the party.

Some artists who work with Philippa Hughes by collaborating with her on events go on to promote their work independently through their own events. She can be a great resource and openly provides assistance to people she supports behind the scenes. Other artists may be so involved with their creative work that they welcome the efforts of party promoters to do what they themselves absolutely do not enjoy.

It's great that people are examining various elements of the D.C. art scene but the conversation is better served without the hostility and negativity.
I attended one of the salons in Philippa's apartment, and it was one of the most unique experiences I've had in D.C. To call her a lightweight is missing the point--she's not trying to be an art history professor! Have to say though, I thought this article could have been punchier.
Philippa is meeting an unmet need for younger people interested in contemporary art but who are put off by the inaccessibility of much of the art "establishment". Of course some of the trust fund "collectors" (air quotes) and the "daddy paid for my art history degree" (more air quotes) crowd would be protective of their exalted status and resent the popularity of what Philippa has accomplished. Art museums readily acknowledge the advanced age of their visitors/members is a real problem, not to mention lack of diversity, and anyone who can bring in younger professionals who come for the party but stay for the art should be highly praised. And to the critics who complain about mixing parties with art, I better not see you partying it up next month at Art Basel Miami (which is ALL ABOUT THE ART, right?).
The way I see it Hughes is being heard. She is being seen. She has parties at the museums. This is a lot more than I have ever gotten in my 35 years as an artist. Hey she is on the commission of the arts in DC and Virginia. Both organizations would not accept my art or even ask me to any functions. Let her do what she does and I like her for whatever she does.
Best,
Diana Gamerman

It's always sad to see people try to tare down a successful woman. I'm not suggesting the authors of this piece are doing that - my take away is that they themselves are trying to figure out Philippa and are perhaps trying to put her in a box of some kind.

Those that were interviewed and negatively spoke about her seem to be sadly jealous or dangerously out of touch.

The reality is this in my mind: Philippa is very interesting. She's grabbed hold of 'something' that is volatile, creative and hard to define. Most people can't deal with volatile, creative, or hard to define - let alone grab hold of something like that. Philippa will find the innovative path, and leave in her wake inspired artists and DC residents who are better off for the hard work she's done.
Ms. Hughes clearly means well. However, she is way overexposed, bordering on being a cliche. That same expression in self-posted pictures begs us to look, but we've seen 'that girl' way too many times.
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