Meet the Designer: An Interview with Klaus Ottmann

A head shot of Klaus Ottman

Klaus Ottman, Deputy Director for Curatorial and Academic Affairs at The Phillips Collection

At The Chromologist we are lovers of art and I always love having the opportunity to speak with curators and exhibition designers about their recent projects and find out more about the interplay between art, colour and design.  I recently interviewed Klaus Ottmann, Deputy Director for Curatorial and Academic Affairs at The Phillips Collection, Washington DC, to find out more about their latest exhibition.

Can you give us the lowdown on what readers can expect from Karel Appel: A Gesture of Color?

Karel Appel (1921–2006) is — along with Piet Mondrian and Willem de Kooning — one of the most renowned Dutch artists of the 20th century. This survey of 22 paintings and sculptures provides a fresh look at an artistic production that spans more than sixty years. A Gesture of Color embraces the broad spectrum of Appel’s work, from his early interest in children’s art and his stylistic experiments to his highly expressive and gestural — sometimes almost abstract — interpretation of traditional subjects like the nude, the portrait, and the urban and rural landscape.

The exhibition has been open since June (and stays open until 18th September), what has the response been like? 

We have had a busy summer tourist season, and have received great feedback about the installation.

What was your role in the creation of this exhibit? How do you go about collating artefacts and artworks for this type of exhibition?

I curated the exhibition, designed the layout and wall graphics, and selected the wall colour.  For this exhibition, we worked very closely with the Karel Appel Foundation to select a wide array of representative works from Appel’s long career.

What role do interior design and colour play in the space?

When planning an exhibition, we have to consider the existing spaces in the museum, making sure the artwork not only fits comfortably into the galleries, but that the flow of the exhibition makes sense aesthetically. We take into account the different ways a work can be viewed–up close, through a doorway, on a long view, from various angles– and how we can augment our exhibition space to allow for optimal viewing.  Colour plays an important role as well, as it not only transforms spaces but also can enhance the viewing of artworks. Sometimes we are unable to move existing walls or add additional wall space, so we often rely on colour to differentiate between themes/subject matter/periods within special exhibitions.

Karel Appel Exhibiton at the Phillips Collection

Drop Cloth creates a subdued background to Appel’s bold artwork

How do you choose colours for an exhibition like this?  And why did you choose Drop Cloth this time?

We consider the content of the exhibition when determining wall colour and determine what colours will best feature the work without distracting the viewer or overwhelming the artwork.

We chose Drop Cloth for this exhibition because we felt it would provide a fresh background that is neutral without seeming colorless to Appel’s paintings and sculptures, which combine thickly applied radiant primary colors with fiercely figurative content.

Do you have a favourite piece in the exhibition?

Magnolia in the Night, 1989.

Magnolia in the Night

Magnolia in the Night (c)Karel Appel Foundation

Would you share one of your favourite things to do in Washington DC?

Attend Sunday Concerts at the Phillips Collection

Exterior image of the Phillips Collection

The Phillips Collection. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

What’s the most interesting artefact/artwork/piece of furniture/curios in your home?

I have a jar of pine pollen given to me by artist Wolfgang Laib.

And finally, if you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

New York.

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Rebecca Maclean


Rebecca’s interest in interior design began as a teenager when she had the ‘bright’ idea of painting her bedroom a striking tangerine shade. Today that passion for colour permeates her working life, and at home she enjoys trying new ideas while decorating her first home. Rebecca loves to travel, seeing the world and discovering new landscapes, sights and flavours.

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