Scope and Content Note


In a 1977 article recounting the tastemakers of the arts in the 1970s, New York Times critic John Russell pointed to a new generation of intelligent, dedicated, and energetic women in the visual arts. Having names too numerous to list, Russell instead singled out one: "it would be hard . . . to find anyone in the profession who doubts that Anne d'Harnoncourt, now curator of 20th-century art in the Philadelphia Museum, will one day make a great museum director." Five years later, Anne d'Harnoncourt (1943-2008) assumed the role Russell predicted, and for the next 25 years, served as the George D. Widener Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), adding the position of Chief Executive Officer in 1997. During her tenure, d'Harnoncourt led the Museum through milestones that transformed its collections, exhibitions, curatorial and educational missions, and physical environment. The records she compiled during that time provide the framework for those transformations and underscore the attention to detail, encyclopedic intellect and interests, community commitment and contagious enthusiasm for the arts that characterized d'Harnoncourt's styles of leadership and life. Her records consist primarily of correspondence, notes, press clippings, ephemera, reference materials, reports and draft writings. Photographs, phone logs, appointment calendars, floor plans and other drawings are also included.

The records are arranged in four series, beginning with the most voluminous, "NAMES AND SUBJECTS" (SERIES I). Comprised of alphabetically arranged files, the series documents d'Harnoncourt's steady contact with colleagues, artists and patrons of the arts, as well as city officials, government and private funders, corporate leaders, scholars and educators and a number of PMA visitors. Subject files track the development of social, cultural and political trends, topics and events, as well as projects, programs and issues specific to Museum operations. The series is comprised of six date-defined subseries that adhere to the bulk dates of materials as transferred to the Archives: 1982-1985; 1986-1991; 1992-1996; 1997-1999; 2000-2003; and 2004-2008.

While the lengthy lists of names and subjects suggest the scope of d'Harnoncourt's responsibilities, the singular focus of the second series, "EXHIBITIONS" (SERIES II), indicates her maintaining at the least an overview of the approximately 200 exhibitions PMA presented to the public during her tenure. As the number of folders per exhibition makes evident, d'Harnoncourt's involvement varied. For some exhibitions, she'd receive general updates. With others, files of correspondence document her communicating directly with lenders, funders, and directors and curators of participating museums. Notes and annotated typescripts show d'Harnoncourt's work in drafting catalogue forewords as well as remarks she gave at gala openings, press previews and symposiums accompanying some of the exhibitions. Arranged chronologically in subseries of date ranges similar to those in Series I, each exhibition is processed as a sub-subseries, with files of unrealized exhibitions and other records at the end of each subseries.

Although not to the extent of her exhibition files, d'Harnoncourt maintained record groups for several other subjects for extended lengths of time. These records comprise the third series, "LONG-TERM RECORDS" (SERIES III), with each subject processed as a subseries. The subjects are: "Barnes Foundation," "Board of Trustees," "Calder Museum," "Duchamp, Marcel," and "Reinstallation project." Because d'Harnoncourt also kept a running file of the lectures and other talks she gave on behalf of the Museum, those records have also been processed here as the "Remarks" subseries. Both the "Barnes Foundation" and "Calder Museum" records pertain to PMA's involvement in projects outside the Museum that, respectively, sought to preserve intact a world-renown collection of art and to create a new venue in Philadelphia for the works of one of America's most distinguished family of artists. An ambitious undertaking at this Museum is the subject of the "Reinstallation project" subseries. A decade in the making, the project significantly changed the way visitors would experience PMA's exceptional collection of European art. D'Harnoncourt's files cover every aspect of the project, including gallery construction and renovations, object conservation and reinstallation, the development of new interpretive materials, as well as the studies and funding that enabled all the work. It is no wonder that Marcel Duchamp, the artist best associated with d'Harnoncourt's scholarship and curatorial tenure should be the subject of another subseries, "Duchamp, Marcel, 1887-1968." These records document the evolution of that association, which grew into the close relationship d'Harnoncourt shared with the artist's widow and step-daughter. The substantial amount of correspondence attests to how frequently the three consulted in order to insure the integrity of the artist's body of work. Other files make evident d'Harnoncourt's regular contact with her curatorial and library staff on matters of collection development for works of art and archival material in order to strengthen the Museum's reputation as an important center of Duchampian studies. Completing the series of long-term records is the "Board of Trustees" subseries, which documents d'Harnoncourt's work with members of the Museum's Board of Trustees. Most of the files pertain to the discussions and decisions of the Nominating Committee, charged with identifying new or re-nominating previous members to the board.

The last series, "OTHER MATERIALS" (SERIES IV), consists of records compiled and used by d'Harnoncourt and her staff to manage her daily activities and travel. Records are arranged in two subseries: "Administrative records" and "Assistant's files." The types of records created and the length of time such records were used no doubt reflect the different office practices of the approximately 20 assistants engaged over the course of d'Harnocourt's tenure. It is just as likely that the change of pace in the director's office that accompanied d'Harnoncourt's expanded responsibilities in 1997 when she was appointed CEO and her increased involvement in professional affiliations around the world also made an impact on recordkeeping.

Researchers should note that there is no electronically-formatted material in the Anne d'Harnoncourt Records. Although the Museum was making use of electronic communications by 1998, these paper-only records make clear that e-mail was not d'Harnoncourt's choice of correspondence. Instead, she continued to write a significant amount of her letters and memos by hand, in her ubiquitous blue or black felt-tip pens. Notes, often of multiple pages, were also handwritten. And it was not uncommon for d'Harnoncourt to add whimsical images to her writings--literally illustrating her point. Her access to e-mails was often through an intermediary, with her staff "opening" messages and printing them for her review. Neither did d'Harnoncourt "surf" the World Wide Web. Staff or others would provide printouts of pertinent websites and news articles.

Works Consulted

"AAM accreditation program." Museum resources. American Association of Museums. Copyright 1999. AAM. 26 Apr. 2007.