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1970 - 1980

The 1970s began with one of the Museum’s most exciting exhibitions to date--a show of the paintings of Vincent van Gogh--which not only attracted 406,048 visitors in the five weeks it was on view but also raised the Museum’s attendance for the full fiscal year to 907,278. The "unique, timely, and provocative" Peace exhibition followed in the spring of 1970. Sponsored and organized by students of local art schools, it carried the following message: The concern for PEACE that dominates our world today is felt in many areas. It is a peaceful settlement of war. It is the resolution of the many local environmental problems. Peace seeks the elimination of pollution, poverty, and over-population. . .of ecological and social equilibrium. Peace ultimately means concern for the sufferings and deprivations of all mankind. The exhibition featured works of art by more than sixty contemporary artists, with the Great Stair Hall "wrapped" by Christo as a focal point.

1970 also saw the establishment of several important organizations. The first was COLLAB, a nonprofit group of design professionals committed to supporting the acquisition of modern and contemporary decorative arts. The second was the Department of Urban Outreach (DUO), a group that allowed the Museum to expand its involvement with new areas in the city to enrich the lives of neighborhoods and communities by helping them realize their plans in fields related to the arts. Finally, a new Development Steering Committee was established to work upon careful and realistic planning with respect to future requirements, capital expenditures and operating needs, calling for major increases in operating income, and laying the groundwork for capital development.

Planning also began for the celebrations to take place in 1976, which would be the year of both the nation’s Bicentennial and the Museum’s own Centennial. In preparation, a new curatorial department concentrating on an American achievement in art was established. Darrel Sewell was its first curator, with Beatrice Garvan following shortly thereafter on the decorative arts end. In 1971, the Department of Twentieth-Century Art was created. Director Evan Turner subsequently appointed Marcel Duchamp scholar Anne d'Harnoncourt, who would later become the Museum's Director and CEO herself, as the first Curator of Twentieth-Century Painting.

In February 1972, the American Association of Museum’s Accreditation Committee visited the PMA and examined every possible function of the building. It was, along with the Rodin Museum, officially accredited soon after. The Committee found in the Museum "a great collection, well-housed, administered by a dedicated staff and governed by an active and concerned Board of Trustees." The next month, the Museum continued to break ground with the founding of the "Form in Art" program for the visually impaired. Created with funding from the George W. Nevil Trust, the program was the first of its kind in the country.

In early 1973 a new Cafeteria was opened, with the more formal Museum Restaurant opening a few months later in June. The Restaurant was furnished in the Bauhaus design tradition with generous assistance from the Women’s Committee and construction costs covered by the City. Major fundraising efforts were also underway by this time to prepare the institution for its upcoming Centennial. These plans included the introduction of new electronic devices to heighten security and fire protection, the re-glazing of all (over 300) windows, and the renovation of fixtures. In addition, the time had come to reevaluate the total function of the Museum, with the moving of almost every object in the collection and new consideration given to lighting and other technical devices that could help present the collections in a more effective and meaningful way. The economic situation in the early 1970s, however, was far from favorable, and in order to move forward the Museum was forced to freeze positions as they became vacant (following the example of the City of Philadelphia).

In the fall of 1973, a much-anticipated exhibition of the artistic legacy of Marcel Duchamp opened to extraordinary success. Organized by Anne d’Harnoncourt in collaboration with Kynaston McShine, Curator in the Painting and Sculpture Department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the show was the first Duchamp retrospective ever presented on the East Coast. A record crowd of more than 7,000 members attended an all day preview, while films, lectures, a special Duchamp "newspaper", and a 348-page catalogue marked other highlights of the exhibition. It went on to open at the Art Institute of Chicago after its run in Philadelphia and New York. Also in 1973, an enormous plan to air-condition the Museum's huge building was approved. The ambitious program required objects in each gallery in turn to be dismantled, recorded, packed, and arranged in secure storage areas until the project’s completion.

Early 1974 saw the publication of a 112-page volume, Treasures of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, featuring 105 illustrations of objects representing every department of the Museum, with brief commentaries written by members of the curatorial staff. The book was made possible by a generous donation from the Philadelphia Electric Company and the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society, and was sent as a gift to new members. In the spring of that year the Board of Trustees and the City of Philadelphia jointly decided that the Museum should follow the example set by peer institutions throughout the country and begin closing one day a week. The day that was chosen was Monday. Because of the magnitude of the air-conditioning project, however, the Museum had to ultimately close more than just one day a week. For ten months beginning in mid-April 1975, the Museum was therefore closed to the public so that these critical renovations could be made. The decision was postponed until the absolute last minute and it wasn’t made lightly, but was determined to be necessary in order for the Museum to be ready for the 1976 celebrations. Over that ten-month period, the building was filled with not only the skilled workmen involved in the air-conditioning project, but also a number of glazers, marble setters, steam fitters, bulldozer operators, caulkers, pipe insulators, and computer mechanics. When the Museum reopened the next year, some 800 people had been involved in its refurbishment.

To compensate to the public during that time, the Museum offered a proliferation of events and activities throughout the city both alone and with the cooperation of several other Philadelphia organizations. Among them was Skyscapes, where local artists submitted original drawings with the winning entries subsequently rendered as skywriting, and Seahorses, a dramatic draped-fabric environment by artist Sam Gilliam installed on the two exterior walls of the Museum’s East Façade. Some 60 treasures from the collection were placed on view at the Rodin Museum, and continuing lectures, film series, and the like took place in other venues around town.

June 1975 also saw the opening of the newly renovated Museum-administered Thomas Eakins house. The house, where Eakins himself had lived and worked, served as a cultural center with free classes in art, music, photography, ceramics, and dance. Another key event of the year was the establishment of the Museum’s Archives, created when Director Evan Turner "recognized the opportunity to gather together the scattered collections of. . .records so that they would be available for research use." From 1976 to 1977, the Archives functioned as an independent office, but by 1978, it had become part of the Library.

Late February 1976 was a time of enormous celebration when, at long last, the Museum hosted its gala Centennial reopening. 18,000 members, their guests, and distinguished representatives of the City Administration all turned out for the landmark event. After years of preparation, the reframing, cleaning, and conserving of paintings, hand-cleaning of rugs, moving of sculpture, and polishing of furniture was complete, and 190 fully air-conditioned galleries and nearly 30 period rooms were finally open. Throughout Centennial Week, 100,000 visitors took advantage of free admission, several film screenings, concerts, lectures, talks, education projects, and the new Museum Shop and Art Sales and Rental Gallery. A year of festivities had begun.

April 1976 saw the opening of the exhibition Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art. Supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Atlantic Richfield Foundation, the show marked the most ambitious exhibition in the Museum’s history. Over 550 magnificent objects created in the Philadelphia area were presented, ranging from paintings, prints, and photographs to sculpture, decorative arts, costumes, and architecture. This was the first exhibition to be housed in the newly completed Special Exhibition Galleries on the first floor, a vast 14,000 square-foot space funded by the City of Philadelphia. Two critically acclaimed Museum publications were also released; a 700-page catalogue, chronologically arranged with illustrations of each featured object and the contributions of 37 different writers (including 18 members of the Museum’s curatorial staff), as well as a more brief but lavishly illustrated book designed as a souvenir album highlighting 150 choice objects from the exhibition. Also of note was the Re-viewing America: Signs and Symbols of Patriotic Pride exhibition of popular American emblems in diverse mediums, as well as the Division of Education’s exhibition American Family Portraits: 1730–1976.

Centennial spirit continued into 1977 with the exhibition Gifts to Mark a Century, featuring more than 500 works of art received in celebration of the Museum’s important milestone. The objects on view were the result of months of effort on the part of Museum curators, members of the Board of Trustees, and many friends; spearheaded by the Centennial Gifts Committee under the chairmanship of Henry P. McIllhenny, Chairman of the Board of Trustees. 1977 also saw the opening of the much-anticipated American Collections in their new first-floor galleries. The completion of the 14,000 square-foot space accomplished, at last, one of the Museum’s long-sought goals of bringing its extensive American art holdings together in one area. Coinciding with the opening were a variety of programs, lectures, films on American art and music, a folk concert, and the exhibition American Presidential China.

One of the major events of 1977 was the opening of the Kretzschmar von Keinbusch Collection of Armor and Arms on October 1. The bequest of Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch, whose career as a scholar, collector, and curator influenced generations of arms and armor enthusiasts, not only established the Museum’s armory (which had been built in the 1960s with funds specially appropriated by the City), but thus brought one of the hemisphere’s finest collections of such material to Philadelphia. The next month, responding to the increased interest nationwide in the revival of fine craft, the Women's Committee organized the first Philadelphia Craft Show. The show, held in Memorial Hall, quickly gained acclaim as one of the finest juried exhibitions and sales of contemporary American crafts in the country. It was a significant fundraiser then, and continues today as the single largest annual fundraising event for the Museum.

After an exhaustive search for the best qualified successor to Evan Turner, who had resigned from his position as Museum Director in June 1977, the Board of Trustees announced the election of Dr. Jean Sutherland Boggs, a distinguished specialist in the work of Edgar Degas, at a special meeting in July 1978. She assumed her duties as Director of the Museum the following February, with Arnold Jolles serving as Acting Director in the interim. In 1978, the Museum received two important bequests which strengthened its holdings of European art: The Charlotte Dorrance Wright Collection of 51 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, including important works by Paul Gauguin, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and Pierre Auguste-Renoir; and the Anthony Morris Clark Collection of over 500 Italian prints and drawings, with a particular strength in Roman artists of the eighteenth century. 1978 also saw the completion of a new conservation lab, featuring some 4,000 square feet of space ideally equipped for the treatment of paintings, furniture, and objects. In the fall of that year, the grand exhibition The Second Empire: Art in France under Napoleon III opened with a fireworks display and an Imperial Ball organized by the Women’s Committee. The New York Times declared the show, curated by Joseph Rishel and Kathryn Hiesinger, as "the single most outstanding exhibition of the year."

1979 began with the opening of another landmark show, Treasures of Early Irish Art. This touring exhibition ended in Philadelphia and continued to draw huge crowds to the Museum. Attendance during its run reached 218, 380, an increase of 50% over the same period in 1978. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum hosted an Irish community preview party, a Gaelic Mass in the Great Stair Hall, a symposia featuring visiting Irish scholars, and an Irish feis, or step-dancing competition. It was also a big year for the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, marking the beginning of what would be a series of grants from the Hunt Corporation, a Philadelphia-based manufacturer and distributor of art/craft and office products. The grants enabled the Museum to add adventurous contemporary works on paper to its collections. In May, a new permanent Prints and Drawings Gallery opened, which was funded in full by a grant from the William Penn Foundation. The photography collections were further enhanced by a gift of 496 original photographs, given to the department from the Estate of Paul Strand. Among the most important gifts of the year was a group of Dutch Tiles, given by Mrs. Francis P. Garvan. Most of these treasures dated from the 17th century, and included one of the largest tile pictures known, some seven-by-ten feet long and composed of 384 tiles, depicting a scene of the campaign of the Duke of Marlborough in the Low Countries. The gift made the Museum's collection of such tiles among the largest and most comprehensive in the country.

Finishing the decade was the Delights of Fine Fashion, the inaugural exhibition in the Museum’s new Costume and Textile gallery. To celebrate, additional installations of splendid costumes were shown throughout the Museum, and an opening dinner, dance, and fashion show was held. The exhibition Noguchi’s Imaginary Landscapes opened in the fall as well, with a program of events that included a performance by the Tokyo String Quartet and the world premier of Sumidagawa, a new opera by Nicholas Scarim. Other programs of music, dance, theatre, and poetry readings were also held.

Major Exhibitions

  • 1970: Vincent van Gogh; The Mind’s Eye (Student Center exhib)
  • 1971: Gericault; 1492 (Student Center exhib)
  • 1972: Object into Monument (Claes Oldenburg)
  • 1973: A Sense of Style: Two Hundred Years of Philadelphia Fashion; Sculpture of the Inuit: Masterworks of the Canadian Arctic; Marcel Duchamp
  • 1974: A Decade of Gifts
  • 1976: Three Centuries of American Art
  • 1977: Gifts to Mark A Century
  • 1978: The Second Empire: Art in France under Napoleon III
  • 1979: Treasures of Early Irish Art; Noguchi’s Imaginary Landscapes

Major Gifts and Acquisitions

  • 1974: The Mr. and Mrs. H. Gates Lloyd Collection; the Albert M. and Elizabeth M. Greenfield Collection of Modern Art
  • 1975: Contemporary American paintings donated by the Woodward Foundation
  • 1976: Over 500 works of art received as part of the Gifts to Mark a Century Campaign; Group of 100 photographs by Ansel Adams purchased from the artist with funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Hanslohner
  • 1977: Louis Hirshman’s Portrait of Einstein; the Carl Otto Kretzschmar von Kienbusch Collection of Arms and Armor
  • 1978: The Charlotte Dorrance Wright Collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings; the Anthony Morris Clark Collection of Italian prints and drawings
  • 1979: 496 original photographs given to the department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs from the Estate of Paul Strand

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