Expanding the Trail Phillips Blazed; New Director Sees Latest Art Fitting Founder's Vision

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Byline: Deborah K. Dietsch, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Dorothy Kosinski, who was named director of the Phillips Collection in December, was in Washington for just a few days last month, but she already understands pork. At least the kind depicted by French artist Paul Gauguin.

"Look at the way the white curve of the fat is picked up in the curved tips of the onions," the 54-year-old curator said, marveling over "The Ham," Gauguin's 1889 still life in an upstairs gallery at the Phillips.

Once she assumes her new position in May, Ms. Kosinski, now a senior curator at the Dallas Museum of Art, no doubt will become familiar with the other kind of pork as she rubs shoulders with politicians and philanthropists. Her first priority is to secure the museum's long-term financial stability by increasing its $18 million endowment, which generates just 8 percent to 9 percent of revenue toward operating expenses. According to a recent report from the board of trustees, the average endowment for comparable museums is $150 million to produce about 25 percent to 33 percent of annual revenue.

"This is an institution that is collection-rich and cash-poor, and that's something we have to confront," Ms. Kosinski says. "My biggest challenge is a financial one."

At the Dallas Art Museum, where she has worked since 1995, the curator prepared for a future leadership role by taking on managerial and administrative duties. However, it quickly becomes evident from our conversation that Ms. Kosinski is most passionate about the history of modern art. "It is small enough here so I won't have to forsake all my creativity as a curator," she says of the Phillips. "The collection is just magnificent and speaks so directly to my professional expertise."

A specialist in 19th- and 20th-century painting and sculpture, Ms. Kosinski co-organized "Matisse: Painter as Sculptor," which closed earlier this week at the Baltimore Museum of Art. At the Dallas Museum of Art, she directed about 20 exhibits, including the popular 2006 show "Van Gogh's Sheaves of Wheat" and a survey of Henry Moore sculpture.

Before joining that institution, Ms. Kosinski worked as an independent curator for art museums in London; Wolfsburg, Germany; and Basel, Switzerland. She is married to Swiss-born Thomas Krahenbuhl, a Dallas architect; their daughter Elean-or is a sophomore at Boston University.

The third director outside the Phillips family to lead the museum, Ms. Kosinski succeeds Jay Gates, who joined the institution in 1998. "She is ferociously intelligent and a perfect art-historical fit for the museum," says Mr. Gates, whose accomplishments include a major campaign to expand the Dupont Circle mansion with the Sant Building, which opened in April 2006. Museum attendance rose as a result, from 153,983 visitors in 2005 to 172,434 in 2006, then declined last year to 133,253 visitors.

As for the image of the Phillips, Ms. Kosinski bristles at the idea that the cozy venue routinely organizes predictable shows focused on impressionism. "I know what the buzz is, but it's unfair because when you look at the exhibition schedule, you'll see a much broader reach," she says.

What about "American Impressionism" and "Impressionists by the Sea," the most recent exhibits at the museum? …