(December 12, 2020) Anne d’Harnoncourt was one of America’s great curators of 20th C art as well as one of its pioneering museum directors. The only child of Rene d’Harnoncourt, MoMA’s visionary director from 1949-67, she was destined to dramatically impact the world she was raised in. As a curatorial assistant at the Philadelphia Museum, she helped oversee the in
stallation of Etant Donneé (1968), Duchamp’s last and most enigmatic work of art. This forged an unlikely bond between the towering, courtly d’Harnoncourt, whose voice was a dead ringer for Julia Childs’, and the demure, soft-spoken artist. They joined forces again in 1973, when she organized his landmark retrospective that helped cement his place as the figurehead for artists like Warhol, Johns, Rauschenberg, and John Cage. From 1972-82, as the PMA’s curator of 20th C art, she reshaped its collection galleries emphasizing artists in depth, with innovative installations of Brancusi, Lewitt, and Johns, enhancing its holdings of Kelly, Martin & Twombly, among many others. She organized the breakthrough Futurism & the International Avant Garde (1980), redrawing the modernist map for the first time since Alfred Barr’s Cubism & Abstract Art (1930). When she became the PMA’s director in 1982, she was not only one of the youngest US cultural leaders but one of its few women. She not only embarked on a decade’s long transformation of the PMA’s campus and facilities, but she became a leader among her peers as an outspoken advocate of pay equity for male and female directors. She also led the charge to rescue Eakins’ Gross Clinic, when UPenn threatened to sell it at auction under duress. When she passed away sud
denly in 2008, she was survived by her lifetime partner, Joseph Rishel, whom she married in 1971 when they were both young curators at the Art Institute of Chicago. Joe was an equally colorful personality, whose expertise in European painting ranged from the 18th c through Cezanne. His intelligence was intensified by his wry sense of humor, and, like Anne, he was a doting friend and mentor. He passed away last month. Both are worthy of more extensive recognition. More images in my Instagram post here.