Art Museum CEO Anne d'Harnoncourt dead

June 2, 2008 2:14:02 PM PDT
Anne d'Harnoncourt, the longtime chief executive of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and one of the art world's most influential women, has died. She was 64. D'Harnoncourt died at home in Philadelphia on Monday morning of natural causes, museum spokesman Norman Keyes said. He said her death was unexpected but did not elaborate.

D'Harnoncourt came to the museum in 1967 as a curatorial assistant. She became museum director in 1982 and replaced Robert Montgomery Scott in 1997 as chief executive officer.

"She broke ground and she just kept growing," said Derek Gillman, executive director of The Barnes Foundation. "On all the three continents I've worked, the art world is very much dominated by men ... Anne was not only impressively credentialed but massively respected."

Under her directorship, the Philadelphia Museum of Art saw a period of expansion including the purchase of a shuttered art deco landmark near the museum that added 173,000 square feet of restoration, research and gallery space for works previously in storage for lack of room.

Another upcoming expansion, a $500 million project by architect Frank O. Gehry, will be constructed 30 feet below the main museum building's east plaza.

D'Harnoncourt also led the charge to raise tens of millions of dollars to keep Thomas Eakins' masterpiece "The Gross Clinic" in the city after news broke of its impending sale to a group including Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton.

"Anne's death is a severe loss to our beloved museum, to the world of art and to those who knew and loved her," said museum board chairman Gerry Lenfest. "She was learned, a gifted speaker, had a great effervescent personality, was a great director and, above all, a deeply caring person."

D'Harnoncourt was born on Sept. 7, 1943, the only child of Rene d'Harnoncourt, art historian and famed director of New York's Museum of Modern Art, and Sara Carr, a fashion designer.

She graduated from Radcliffe College and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, then was hired as a curatorial assistant at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1967. After a curator stint at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1969 to 1971, she returned to Philadelphia and spent the rest of her career there.

"She casts an enormous shadow, in the best sense of the word, on Philadelphia and on the art world," said Edward T. Lewis, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. "I don't think there's any way we can ever replace her; she will become a legend."

During her tenure from 1982 to 1992 as curator of 20th-century art, the museum expanded its contemporary collections with acquisitions of works by artists including Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly and Sol LeWitt.

A scholar of Dada artist Marcel Duchamp, who was an acquaintance of her parents, d'Harnoncourt was an organizer of a major retrospective of his work in 1973. She also published articles and books about modern and contemporary art movements and artists.

As director and chief executive of the museum, she directed popular touring exhibitions by Paul Cezanne, Salvador Dali and Constantin Brancusi, as well as a historic tour of The Barnes Foundation's collection.

She was recognized for her fundraising acumen, raising nearly $250 million during the museum's 125th anniversary capital campaign from 2001 to 2004.

D'Harnoncourt convinced City Council in 2004 to rescind then-Mayor John F. Street's budget proposal to eliminate all city funding of the museum. In an emotional plea, d'Harnoncourt said the museum would no longer be able to attract prestigious and lucrative exhibitions, and would have to cut hours and programs.

"Anne was devoted ... she helped that institution grow until it realized its potential as one of the great museums of the world," Gillman said. "She was a force of nature."

She is survived by her husband of 37 years, Joseph J. Rishel, a senior curator at the museum.


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