Series II. Exhibitions

1978-2008, n.d.

52 linear feet

Scope and Content Note

A former curator herself, Anne d'Harnoncourt considered exhibitions a vital part of museum activities, connecting the art with the public. In a 2006 interview conducted by Hans Ulrich Obrist, d'Harnoncourt pointed to PMA's 1981 exhibition "Manifestation of Shiva" as her idea of a perfect show. As she noted, "...that's an exhibition that has sunk into the collective consciousness. That's what you want to happen."

This series consists of the records d'Harnoncourt compiled in connection with the special exhibitions organized by the Museum during her tenure as director, and from 1997 also as CEO. In addition, the first subseries includes material of three exhibitions that opened at the end of 1981 under the directorship of Jean Sutherland Boggs but concluded after d'Harnoncourt's appointment. Preparatory materials for three exhibitions that opened after d'Harnoncourt's death in June 2008 are part of the last subseries.

The scope of the exhibitions documented here varies from the relatively small installations that primarily draw upon the Museum's permanent collection to monographic retrospectives and "blockbusters" featuring a particular historical period, cultural center or artist, with works of art from this Museum and institutions around the world. Exemplifying the former are the series of seven "Museum Studies" installations organized by the Modern and Contemporary Art Department between 1993 and 2003. In regard to the large-scale exhibitions mounted under d'Harnoncourt's direction, new ways of looking at well-known masters and movements were presented in shows such as "Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting" (1984); "Cézanne" (1996); "The Splendor of 18th-Century Rome" (2000); "Salvador Dalí" (2005); and "Andrew Wyeth: Memory and Magic" (2006). Under d'Harnoncourt's direction, museum goers were also introduced to the arts of peoples and times lesser known through exhibitions such as "'Shocking!' The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli" (2003-2004); "African Art, African Voices: Long Steps Never Broke a Back" (2004-2005); "Tesoros/Treasures/Tesouros: the Arts in Latin America, 1492-1820" (2006); and "Ike Taiga and Tokuyama Gyokuran: Japanese Masters of the Brush" (2007). Visitors to many of these shows would also have noticed as something new the incorporation of video and archival materials as part of the exhibition display.

D'Harnoncourt's records document a substantial part of the activities surrounding these exhibitions as well as the degree of her involvement. Based on folder content, the extent of her participation varied from simply collecting a few informational memos, letters or press clippings to making a significant contribution to the different stages required in presenting an exhibition to the public. For the most part, there are corresponding subject folders for every phase of an exhibition, such as tour scheduling, funding, grant applications, loan negotiations, catalogue preparation, organization of openings, press previews, donors and lenders receptions, symposiums, and other events, as well as media coverage and public relations. Material related to the initial planning usually is included in "General" folders.

D'Harnoncourt's correspondence comprises a significant part of the documentation in this series. Those with whom she kept contact include PMA staff, from curators and registrars to accountants and visitor service coordinators, colleagues from other museums, collectors and scholars, corporate sponsors and institutional funders, Museum trustees, donors and members, as well as artists and their families. Other materials include d'Harnoncourt's drafts of catalogue forewords and gala opening remarks, handwritten notes of meetings and phone conversations, exhibition check lists, installation plans, guest lists, ephemera, budget, attendance and other reports and studies, as well as press releases and clippings, including website printouts. Some documents are in a foreign language. There are also photographs and slides of objects, and photographs of d'Harnoncourt at openings with other individuals associated with the exhibition.

Exhibitions with extensive documentation are described or mentioned at the subseries level. For additional information, researchers should consult with the Museum Archivist for access to the exhibition records of the organizing curatorial department(s) as well as to the records of the Special Exhibitions Department. Overviews of past exhibitions are available on the Museum's website referenced below. For shows staged after 2003, the site offers additional information and images.

Works Consulted:
  • Obrist, Hans Ulrich."A brief history of curating."
  • "On view: past exhibitions."


D'Harnoncourt always maintained her exhibition records separately with no discernible subdivision of years. However, to adhere to the 15-year restriction described in detail at the collection level, records pertaining to exhibitions held after 1996 are grouped into subseries of date spans. Record dates were determined by exhibition date, rather than earliest or latest material date. The end date of an exhibition determined the subseries under which that group of records would be arranged. Each exhibition is processed as a sub-subseries in chronological order determined by the opening date of an exhibition. Within each sub-subseries, "general" folders precede all others, which are alphabetically arranged. At the end of each subseries are folders pertaining to unrealized exhibitions or exhibitions in general. These are the only files in which material dates determined subseries placement.