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1990 - 2000

The 1990s began with several reorganization endeavors, first among them the enormous task of photographing objects in the collection--part of a two-year cataloguing project funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Museum also established, in 1990, a Special Exhibitions Department charged with coordinating the work-flow of the multiple offices involved in organizing shows, from curatorial to publishing. In July, Computer Services began installing 40 new PCs in various departments as part of the Museum’s long-term plan to computerize operations. In another forward-thinking move, just a few months later the Museum was awarded $50,000 from the Pennsylvania Energy Office to install more energy-efficient lighting around the building.

Among the first shows of the new decade was Contemporary Philadelphia Artists: A Juried Exhibition, which opened to a capacity crowd of some 100 artists and nearly 3,000 guests in April. The featured artists were selected from over 2,000 applicants, and the exhibition was the Museum’s major contribution to Philadelphia Art Now, a three-year celebration of area artists funded by the William Penn Foundation. The end of the year saw the purchase of Hendrick Goltzius’ Sine Cerere et Libero friget Venus (Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus Would Freeze), the most important old master painting to enter the collection in two decades.

An exhibition devoted to Henry Ossawa Tanner, the foremost African American artist at the turn of the century, opened in early 1991 to great enthusiasm. A record number of school-age visitors attended the show, and the Philadelphia Tribune published a special supplement specifically for schoolchildren. In addition, 54 different outreach programs were created as part of the exhibition for groups with special needs. In June of that year, the Museum reached even more audiences with the first Foreign Language tour. Over 50 visitors attended a Polish version of the popular "Highlights of the Collection" tour, part of an expanded series of such tours with eight different languages offered. The year ended with a dramatic lighting ceremony in the Great Stair Hall, which was fully illuminated for the first time in 30 years thanks to the new wiring of the immense clerestory windows.

The original Landmark Renewal Fund goal of $50 million was reached by February 1992, and resolution passed shortly thereafter to extend the campaign into a new phase with a revised goal to bring the total to $60 million. With that in mind, the Museum subsequently launched a three-year, $10 million reinstallation of its European collections. In the summer of 1992, work began on recabling the building to allow for a Museum-wide phone and computer-based communication system; with 170,000 feet of cable laid in all. Another massive project was also undertaken at this time, thanks to funding by the Pew Charitable Trust, that involved assessing and preparing objects for installation that had been long off-view; among them an imposing array of period interiors and architectural elements, stone capitals, and fragments.

By June 30, 1993, the Landmark Renewal Fund’s $60 million campaign goal had been realized. The first of eight large Oriental carpets was installed in September, in preparation for the reopening of galleries devoted to Early European and Near Eastern Art, and in October, in the nearby Medieval and Early Renaissance galleries, Rogier van der Weyden’s brilliantly restored diptych The Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John the Evangelist Mourning was installed on a free-standing stone wall especially designed for it. The treatment of this particular work of art had been the result of years of research, as staff traveled to view virtually every known painting by the artist and consulted with experts around the world. A gala weekend of music, puppet shows, and jugglers celebrated the opening of the new galleries and drew over 18,000 visitors. A recorded tour of these galleries, prepared by the Education staff, was offered to the public the following year--making the Museum only the third in the world to offer this new technology.

In May 1994, the next phase of the reinstallation project came to be with the grand opening of the renovated Annenberg Galleries of European Art from 1850-1900. The galleries were arranged to culminate with Cézanne’s The Large Bathers, a choice that was, as Anne D’Harnoncourt said, "the best possible introduction to the 20th-Century collections which await[ed] attention just beyond." In the summer of 1994, an interesting outreach exhibition opened--Inside Out--which featured a group of paintings and drawings by inmates participating in a collaborative program between the Museum and the State Correction Institution at Frackville, Pennsylvania. This program is still being met with great success today. In October, the Department of Twentieth-Century Art inaugurated its new Video Gallery, providing an entirely new artistic outlet for exhibitions. The Museum also published a summary catalogue of its paintings from Europe and the Americas, with 3,921 illustrations, that same month. The year ended with the Board of Trustees’ acceptance of the splendid bequest of Stella Kramrisch. 645 Indian, Nepalese, and Tibetan objects were then photographed, measured, catalogued, and given accession numbers, among them an extraordinary rendering of Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion.

1995 began with the opening of the exhibition Cézanne to Matisse: Great French Paintings from the Barnes Foundation, a show which earned a record attendance of 477, 012 visitors. In the spring of that year, an illustrated map and timeline were unveiled in the study gallery of the medieval wing, and the first group in a series of teaching posters was completed. The summer of 1995 was spent in still more renovation, with the installation of new lighting systems and several cleaning and conservation projects for the European galleries. A new gallery devoted to European ironwork was opened, as well as one devoted specifically to changing displays of costumes and textiles. The final phase of the reinstallation project, incorporating European art from 1500-1850, opened in September, 1995--with a free weekend of performances, tours, and family events held in collaboration with this most complex and ambitious reshaping of the galleries the Museum had ever undertaken. The celebration drew 8,633 visitors. September 1995 also saw the publication of the Museum’s first Handbook of the Collections since 1976. The Handbook, featuring over 450 color illustrations and texts written by curatorial staff, was made possible by current and former co-chairs of the Associates Program and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. October 1995 witnessed the opening of the only U.S. showing of Constantin Brancusi Retrospective. A "temple of meditation", a space originally planned by Brancusi in the 1930s for the maharajah of Indore but never realized, accompanied the show. It was evoked by reuniting the three versions of Bird in Space with the King of Kings, which he created for the project. October also marked the beginning of Art Talk, a six-week art appreciation course by telephone designed to bring the Museum’s collections to those unable to leave their homes. The year came to a close with the reopening of the Grand Salon from the Hotel Le Tellier in Paris, one of three 18th-century French period rooms restored with a grant from the William B. Dietrich Foundation.

With capital funds allocated by the City of Philadelphia, in early 1996 the Museum began engineering to replace the steam distribution piping system that supplied the principal source of heat for the building. In March, eight art history graduate students from area universities presented papers at the First Annual Philadelphia Symposium on the History of Art, co-sponsored by the Museum and Bryn Mawr College. Also in March, Robert Montgomery Scott, who guided the Museum’s successful capital campaign and joined Anne d’Harnoncourt in stewarding the comprehensive reinstallation of the Museum’s European collections, retired. Mr. Scott’s enthusiastic involvement with the Museum spanned over 40 years, and the Robert Montgomery Scott Fund for Special Exhibitions was subsequently established in his honor. After his retirement, Ms. d’Harnoncourt became Director/C.E.O. of the Museum.

On May 30, 1996, the exhibition Cézanne opened for a 14-week run that saw more than 548,000 visitors. The show, a popular and critical success, ended up being the most widely attended exhibition in the Museum's 120-year history, and it brought the total building attendance for the calendar year to over one million. A gala opening, a Courtyard Café offering a Provençal buffet, a three-day symposium, a special Cézanne store, and a half-hour television special were just a few of the many happenings in conjunction with the show.

November 1996 was a big month for the American Art department. Years of work by the department’s curatorial staff were realized at last in the publication of the Guide to the Thomas Eakins Research Collection, supported by the Luce Fund for Scholarship in American Art. Containing 450 bibliographical entries, the history of the Museum’s research collection, and a record of some 277 exhibitions during Eakins’s lifetime, it was the most definitive and up-to-date guide to sources on the preeminent 19th-century painter. Meanwhile, some 130 members of the Cadwalader family gathered to celebrate the opening of The Cadwalader Family: Art and Style in Early Philadelphia. Finally, Museum educators produced a supplement for the Philadelphia Inquirer that was distributed to 40,000 schoolchildren in the Delaware Valley. It presented stories, pictures, and activities relating to the exhibition The Peale Family: Creation of an American Legacy, 1770–1870.

1997 began with the appointment of Gail Harrity as Chief Operating Officer, overseeing the Museum’s financial, administrative, and marketing functions. In March, the Museum hosted over 400 young people at its first Korean Family Day; a heritage celebration including a Korean dance performance, hands-on studio experiences, and guided tours. The newly formed Korean Heritage Group held their first meeting just two months later. Spring 1997 was a time of dedications. In May, a gallery of Indian Art was dedicated in honor of William P. Wood, a longtime Museum Trustee and collector who had served the Museum in many capacities from the 1950s until his death the previous year. The next month, the Museum hosted a party to celebrate the publication of Making a Modern Classic: The Architecture of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was dedicated to Robert Montgomery Scott. The summer saw the opening of the exhibition India: A Celebration of Independence 1947–1997 as the final renovations were put on the galleries of Indian and Himalayan art. As part of the festivities, four traditional Bengali artists demonstrated their crafts for guests in the Great Stair Hall. Also that summer, Trustees and Staff representing virtually every aspect of Museum life gathered for the first meeting to discuss the creation of a Long Range Strategic Plan. The Plan would set goals for everything from major building projects to the Museum’s public image.

Fall was welcomed in great style with the most comprehensive costume exhibition ever mounted by the Museum. Best Dressed: 250 Years of Style featured some 200 costumes and accessories covering nearly three centuries of fashion. The Conservation Department and the Division of Education, meanwhile, collaborated to create a video on the Kienbusch Collection of Arms and Armor, which was then provided via teleconferencing to 5,000 subscriber schools. A few months later, a grant from the Institute of Museum Services would launch the examination and treatment of over 400 objects in this collection--with the conservation of plate armor taking place right in the Great Armory, allowing visitors to witness the work in progress.

In March 1998, Toshiba International Foundation awarded a grant to support the Japanese Language edition of the Handbook of the Collections, which would be published in May 1999. A Japanese Windows 95 program was also installed, giving East Asian departmental computers Japanese language capability for text-editing. The exhibition Self-Taught Artists of the Twentieth Century also opened that month to a large and lively crowd, signifying the PMA as the first major museum to present the full scope of "outsider" American artists. Art: The Picture Book of History, a special distance-learning project involving a collaboration between the Museum, the New York Institute of Technology, and schools in New York and California, was launched in March as well.

By June, the first phase of a Landscape Rehabilitation Project was completed, with the Kelly Drive entrance to the Museum reconfigured and newly landscaped, and the green areas on the East Court replanted with a variety of flowering plants, shrubs, and eight new paulownia trees. Thanks to a generous grant from the Women’s Committee, the entire Museum staff was outfitted with e-mail capabilities later in the month. Just a short time later in November, the Wholesale and Retail Operations Department would open its first online store, initiating the Museum’s venture into e-commerce. This, coupled with the launch of the Museum’s website a few years earlier, ensured that the institution was well-poised for the leap into the 21st century.

1999 continued in a technological vein, with the Library beginning the first step of a retrospective conversion project of its card catalog to create an online system, or OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog). The project was sponsored by the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. A digital photography system was also selected (after a year of assessing all available systems) that allowed works of art to be photographed directly onto a high-resolution CD.

April saw the opening of Goya: Another Look, a fresh, intimate view of one of the greatest artists of his era. An audio guide was included to point out connections between Goya’s works and the Museum’s own Spanish holdings, while selections of early 19th-century decorative arts gave the paintings a spectacular setting. In June, a lively dance performance by Philadelphia’s Samarpan Jain Sangh inaugurated Making the Path to Perfection: Art for the Jains in India--the first exhibition of works of art by the Jains of India--in the Wood gallery. The display of exquisite sculpture, painted manuscript pages, and embroidered wall hangings was organized to coincide with Philadelphia hosting the 10th Convention of the Jain Associations in North America.

On October 21, 1999 it was unanimously agreed to recommend that the Board of Trustees purchase the Reliance Standard Life Insurance Building (designed by the Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary architectural firm in 1926), the Museum’s neighbor on the Parkway. The century ended on yet another monumental note when, on December 16, Raymond and Ruth Perelman announced at the final Board meeting of the year that they would donate $15 million to the Museum for the advancement of its mission. Champagne was poured and toasts were made to celebrate this--the largest unrestricted monetary gift from individual donors in the institution’s history.

Major Exhibitions

  • 1990: Fabric and Fashion; A Decade of Acquisitions
  • 1991: Henry Ossawa Tanner
  • 1992: Picasso and Things
  • 1993: Impressionist and City: Pisarro; Joseph Beuys
  • 1995: Cézanne to Matisse: Great French Paintings from The Barnes Foundation
  • 1996: Cézanne
  • 1997: India: A Celebration of Independence 1947–1997; Rodin and Michelangelo; Best Dressed; 250 Years of Style
  • 1998: Self-Taught Artists of the Twentieth Century: An American Anthology; Delacroix: The Late Work
  • 1999: Goya: Another Look; Mad for Modernism: Earl Horter and His Collection; Making the Path to Perfection: Art for the Jains in India; Worldly Goods: The Arts of Early Pennsylvania, 1680–1758

Major Gifts and Acquisitions

  • 1990: Goltzius, Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus Would Freeze
  • 1993: Stella Kramrisch Collection; Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Portrait of the Artist’s Mother
  • 1996: Jean-Antoine Houdon’s Bust of Benjamin Franklin
  • 1998: Face of Bhairava
  • 1999: John Singleton Copley’s Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin; Dorothea Tanning’s Birthday

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