The Twentieth Century Art Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, now called the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, was established in 1971. Museum Director Evan Turner appointed Anne d'Harnoncourt, a Marcel Duchamp scholar and curator, as the first department head. In this capacity, d'Harnoncourt oversaw the development of the new department's acquisitions, installation and other programs, and, in conjunction with Kynaston McShine and others from The Museum of Modern Art, organized its first exhibition, the seminal 1973 retrospective "Marcel Duchamp." This was a fitting inaugural exhibition for the Department given the Museum's unparalleled collection of Duchamp's work, most of which was acquired through the 1950 gift of the Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection. Following her appointment as the Museum's Director in 1982, d'Harnoncourt continued to work with the staff of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art to produce original Duchamp scholarship and exhibitions, most significantly the Museum's 1987 "A propos of Duchamp" exhibition, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Duchamp's birth, in which virtually everything by Duchamp which the Museum owned at that time was displayed.
In addition to organizing exhibitions internally, the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art supports outside institutions in their preparation of Duchamp exhibitions, most commonly through loans and advice. In the past thirty years, the Museum has lent works to several important shows, including those at the Musee national d'art Moderne (France), the Seibu Bijutsukan, the Fundacio Joan Miro, and the Palazzo Grassi. In addition, d'Harnoncourt and other department curators have contributed scholarship and advice. For example, d'Harnoncourt's essay "Before the Glass: reflections on Marcel Duchamp before 1915" was published in the Seibu Bijutsukan "Exhibition of Marcel Duchamp" catalog, and she traveled to Japan to present a slide lecture.