Subseries A. 1981-1996

1978-1997, n.d.

Scope and Content Note

The exhibitions documented in this subseries coincide with the first 15 years of d'Harnoncourt's directorship. Records of the earlier exhibitions also contain papers generated by the previous director, Jean Sutherland Boggs that pertain to the preliminary stages of an exhibition.

One of these earlier exhibitions is "John Cage: Scores and Prints" (Sept. 11-Oct. 31, 1982.) Not yet director, d'Harnoncourt was very much involved in the planning of the show as curator of 20th-century art. In this capacity, she wrote an introductory essay for the exhibition catalogue jointly published by PMA and the Whitney Museum in New York. Drafts of this essay and the chronology, also compiled by d'Harnoncourt for the same publication, are in the first two "General" folders. The third folder contains d'Harnoncourt's correspondence with John Cage, the American composer, writer and visual artist and personal friend. This subseries also contains material of two other exhibitions dedicated to his art: "Drawing Sounds: An Installation by William Anastasi in Honor of John Cage" (Aug. 28-Sept. 9, 1993); and "John Cage: Rolywholyover, a Circus" (June 4-July 30, 1995). D'Harnoncourt initiated the former after the artist's death in 1992, writing about her idea that December to Cage's partner, American dancer and choreographer Mercier "Merce" Philip Cunningham. This letter is included in the "General" folder of the latter exhibition, for which she also wrote the catalogue essay "Paying attention."

"The Pennsylvania Germans: a Celebration of Their Arts, 1683-1850" (Oct. 17, 1982-Jan. 9, 1983) is another well documented exhibition begun before d'Harnoncourt's directorship. Her correspondence continues the dialogue Boggs initiated with lenders and the media. Other papers of note are the drafts of her first director's preface to the exhibition catalogue.

Three later exhibitions--"Design since 1945" (Oct.16, 1983-Jan. 8, 1984), "Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting" (Mar. 18-May 13, 1984), and "Philadelphians and the China Trade, 1784-1844" (July 1-Sept. 23, 1984)--were also initiated under Boggs's tenure, as made evident by her correspondence and that of PMA president Robert Montgomery Scott. The bulk of documentation, however, belongs to d'Harnoncourt, and its scope clearly illustrates that from this point forward, she is involved in all aspects of the Museum's special exhibition activities. She is now very much a part of preliminary organizational discussions, funding and sponsorship efforts, catalogue contributions, loan negotiations, communication with museums participating in travelling exhibitions, and shaping relations with the media as well as Museum trustees, members and donors. Still, her involvement varies from exhibition to exhibition. Thus, she contributed significantly to the catalogue of the "Design since 1945" reviewing essays by other contributors and writing the introduction. D'Harnoncourt's extensive correspondence with lenders to the "Dutch Genre Painting" and "China Trade" exhibitions demonstrates her ease at individualizing her requests and establishing personal relationships with her correspondents.

The Museum's collaboration with the Royal Academy of Arts, London, for the exhibition "Marc Chagall" (May 12-July 21, 1985) was the first major presentation of the artist's work in the United States in forty years. (The earlier Chagall retrospective was organized in 1946 by d'Harnoncourt's father at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.) Because of their previously successful collaboration on "Masters of Seventeenth-Century Dutch Genre Painting" exhibition, both museum directors favored another joint venture. During the exhibition preparation, d'Harnoncourt was in steady contact with Norman Rosenthal, Academy exhibition secretary, and Susan Compton, Chagall scholar and the organizing curator, discussing financing, loans and opening events for both venues. As confirmed in correspondence cross-referenced below, d'Harnoncourt and Compton visited the artist at his home in the south of France on March 4, 1984. When a year later a high school student wrote to d'Harnoncourt asking numerous questions about her encounter with Chagall, she replied, "I can tell you...that he was alert, humorous and enormously eager to work (paint) at the age of ninety-seven--one got the impression that his age and physical fragility were great obstacles, but that his spirit and determination to go on creating overcame them." Also of interest is a May 23, 1985, letter from Andrew Wyeth in which the American painter gives his recollection of seeing two Chagall paintings belonging to art collector, curator and critic Christian Brinton at his home in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

"Picasso and Things: The Still Lifes of Picasso" (June 9-Aug. 30, 1992) was a joint exhibition by PMA, the Cleveland Museum of Art and Musée Picasso, Paris, brought to life by d'Harnoncourt's collaboration with two former PMA directors--Jean Sutherland Boggs, the exhibition curator and Evan Hopkins Turner, the Cleveland museum director. In a letter dated June 8, 1992, the latter attributed d'Harnoncourt's contribution to the success of the show during its Cleveland run, stating, "...we all realize--Jean Boggs, the Museum's Board, the staff, and myself--how much we owe you for your most generous cooperation."

In 1995, PMA was the last stop of the travelling exhibition "From Cézanne to Matisse: Great French Paintings from the Barnes Foundation," which was the first and only international tour of these masterpieces originally purchased by the irascible and astute collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes. D'Harnoncourt was actively involved in raising funds and organizing the 1993 opening events in Paris. She also initiated an exhibit of African art objects also from the Barnes in conjunction with the main exhibition. In preparation of hosting the exhibition in Philadelphia, d'Harnoncourt met with Ed Dixon, the grandson of Alfred Nulty who was Barnes's right-hand man for 40 years. Notes taken by d'Harnoncourt at this meeting contain Dixon's recollections of stories told by his grandfather and mother about Barnes.

The files of the 1995 "Constantin Brancusi" exhibition demonstrate how instrumental d'Harnoncourt was in establishing new corporate sponsors in France and in the United States for events surrounding the exhibition. The files also make clear that she was vigorously interested in the history of modern art and Brancusi in particular and wisely diplomatic in resolving a misunderstanding surrounding access to the Brancusi archives during exhibition preparation.

The retrospective "Cézanne" (May 30- Sept. 1, 1996) became a great success for PMA, setting a record attendance of 600,000 visitors. Showing at the Grand Palais, in Paris, and the Tate Gallery in London before coming to Philadelphia, the exhibition was a major international event. D'Harnoncourt's contribution was significant on many levels including strengthening relations between Museum and the City. Her letter to the Philadelphia Commissioner of Police in which she thanks him for his force's sincere response to Museum's needs in dealing with the large crowds reveals her ability to pay attention to small details and never overlook contributions made by others.