Curating an era 'I've lived through'

After deciding to home in on artists of the avant-garde, curator Lisa Phillips had just begun her work. The process of choosing artists and artworks for Part II of "The American Century: Art & Culture 1900-2000" (Part I was on view April 23 to Aug. 22) took about a year and involved much research by not only Ms. Phillips, but five other curators from the Whitney Museum of American Art and about 25 outside advisers. For Phillips, it was one of the most memorable and fulfilling years of her 23-year tenure with the Whitney.

"I got to reread things I'd read as an art history student at Middlebury College," she says. "And most exciting of all, I was dealing with a half century that I've lived through."

Just before we spoke at the museum, she met with 80 of the artists whose works are displayed in the exhibition - including Yoko Ono and Jasper Johns.

"After all these years, I've gotten to know them all," she says, taking the visit in stride. Of all the exhibitions she's worked on at the Whitney, including six of the museum's celebrated biennials ("The Beat Culture and the New America: 1950-1965," "Image World: Art and Media Culture," "Cindy Sherman," and "High Styles: Twentieth-Century American Design"), this one is by far the most monumental in size and scope, she says. She also wrote the book that accompanies it: "The American Century: Art & Culture 1950-2000" (W.W. Norton & Co.).

"The American Century" is a "wonderful conclusion" to her career at the Whitney, she says, explaining that she has just become director of The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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