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1980 - 1990

The 1980s proved to be one of the more active periods for major acquisitions in the Museum’s history. The decade began, in fact, with the purchase of Edgar Degas’s After the Bath, among the institution’s important acquisitions since World War II.

The Museum Library also enjoyed continued growth, and became an associate member of the Research Libraries Group and its Information Network in 1980--a distinction made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Corporate Partners Program was created in the fall of that year, with 24 area business leaders. Privy to a variety of special privileges including receptions, lectures, panel discussions, and Employee Days, the Corporate Partners are to this day enabling the Museum to continue expanding its key initiatives. That same fall a special breakfast was held in the Museum Restaurant, given by the City for the Philadelphia Phillies after their World Series victory.

In March 1981, Stella Kramrisch’s exhibition Manifestations of Shiva opened to great enthusiasm, with 129 sculptures, 64 paintings, and a film produced by The Asia Society expressly for the Museum. Kits of Indian art materials were sent out to schools, and dance performances, concerts, scholarly lectures, and a special "India Day", complete with elephant and camel rides on the East Terrace, rounded out the related events. 1981 was also the year that the Women’s Committee began to contribute funds from the proceeds of its annual Craft Show for the purchase of contemporary American crafts, thus strengthening an already distinguished collection. The exhibition Treasures of Ancient Nigeria opened in February 1982. Co-organized with the National Museum of Nigeria, the show included a variety of special events, including a dance troupe performance from the University of Ibadan. Two Sundays during its run, April 4th and 18th, boasted the largest recorded attendances for individual days in the history of the Museum. Special materials for teachers were prepared in conjunction with the exhibition, and 31, 023 schoolchildren were able to visit it in person.

Unfortunately, despite these exciting events, the early 1980s also saw several organizational changes in the Museum as it faced reduced government spending on the arts--this at the same time when costs were ever-increasing. To face the challenge, in the summer of 1982 the Museum instituted a permanent, full-time, salaried president to have primary responsibility for fiscal matters. The choice was then-President Robert Montgomery Scott. Curator of Twentieth-Century Painting Anne d'Harnoncourt was then appointed the new Director after the resignation of Jean Sutherland Boggs, with a special concentration on the artistic and professional aspects of Museum life. Trustees of the George D. Widener Estate, persuaded by Fitz Eugene Dixon, endowed the Directorship. Under this new administration, the collections continued to expand. In 1983, the American Art Department was enriched by purchase and gift of the Cadwalader Collection, which included a suite of five portraits by Charles Willson Peale, paintings by Gilbert Stuart and Thomas Sully, and a superb 18th-century card table by Philadelphia cabinetmaker Benjamin Randolph. 1983 also marked the 100th anniversary of the Women's Committee.

The following year, the Friends of the Museum celebrated their own 20th anniversary with the gift of Anselm Kiefer’s Nigredo. 1984 also saw the opening of Beyond a Portrait: Photographs by Alfred Stieglitz and Dorothy Norman in the new Alfred Stieglitz Center Gallery. The Division of Education concluded a successful two-year pilot project that year as well. Called the Philadelphia Museum of Art Institute, the program introduced nearly 70 primary and secondary school teachers from all over the area to the collections and to the potential of works of art to offer new insights within a school curriculum. Meanwhile, rethinking and reinstalling the Museum’s galleries on an ongoing basis was considered crucial to the public understanding of the collections. Hence, during the special exhibition Philadelphia and the China Trade, examples of export porcelain were displayed in the American galleries together with European and American wares to illustrate the myriad sources from which American clients took inspiration.

A few major enhancements were made to the Museum during this time, including a new laboratory and x-radiography room for the conservation of decorative arts, the restoration of the painted and gilded decoration of the drawing room from Lansdowne House, and the completion of a new storage facility for rugs and tapestries. The Museum's large and diverse collection of old master prints and drawings doubled in size in 1984–85 when, through the generosity of Muriel and the late Philip I. Berman, some 2,500 drawings and 42,000 prints by European masters of the 16th through 19th centuries were acquired from The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. This incomparable gift ensured that the Museum's print collection would be counted among the most important in the United States. The Department of Twentieth-Century Art also grew with a gift of three paintings from the Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. One was a classic 1955 abstract work, and two were in the Surrealist mode from the 1940s. Works by Neil Jenner, Brice Marden, and Martin Puryear also added to the collection.

Marc Chagall Retrospective was launched in 1985, a major exhibition that, while conceived during the artist’s lifetime, became a tribute after his death in March of that year. For the exhibition, the Museum used the services of Ticketron for the first time--allowing nationwide access to tickets. A $1 admission charge for special exhibitions was also initiated. In the Membership Department, a sophisticated, computer-based record-keeping system was developed to track the growing number of members and revenue (1986 would see membership rise to a record-breaking 25,303). The Associates and Corporate Partners also continued to grow, and the Friends of the Museum added a Young Friends category, bringing the Museum to a whole new and enthusiastic audience. The Young Friends held their first Rodin Museum party in June 1985.

Around this time, the Museum also launched a reorganization project to study the galleries of European painting, sculpture, and decorative arts. These galleries and period rooms had originally been conceived by Fiske Kimball in the late 1920s as a "walk through time", but the original plan had become obscured by both changing patterns of public use through the years and the need to accommodate growth in the collections. The National Endowment for the Humanities thus provided funding for a survey that would allow the Museum’s education and curatorial staff to ponder the entire reinstallation of the section.

Upon the Museum’s reaccreditation by the American Association of Museums in the spring of 1986, the Accreditation Commission’s Senior Examiner noted, "Despite severe financial restraints, the Museum supports a first-rate conservation department, an intelligent publications office, and an inventive art packing and shipping crew. The large, diverse collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are well-served by these three departments, creating a sense that the permanent collection is the essence of the institution." The permanent collection, in the meantime, continued to expand. The receipt of the Henry P. McIlhenny bequest, given to the Museum by the late Chairman of the Board in memory of his mother, markedly transformed the Museum in 1986. One of the finest private collections assembled in the United States during the century, it included masterpieces of 19th-century French painting and drawing by such artists as Ingres, Seurat, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec; as well as a broad range of decorative arts. 1986 also saw the Museum undertake a major capital campaign, the Landmark Renewal Fund, with the ambitious goal of raising $50 million in private support over a five-year period. The Fund would double the endowment as well as repair, renovate, and refurbish the 60-year-old Neoclassical building. A number of significant gifts to the Fund were recognized with the naming of galleries, public spaces, curatorial positions, and endowed funds. The end of 1986 saw several interesting exhibitions of photography, including Black Sun: The Eyes of Four, which brought the first significant group of works by four contemporary Japanese photographers to the United States--Eikoh Hosoe, Shomei Tomatsu, Masahisa Fukase, and Daido Moriyama. The Museum presented a series of experimental Japanese films rarely seen outside of Japan in conjunction with the show. Also of interest was the exhibition Diane Arbus: Magazine Work 1960–1971, which presented the first survey of commercial work by the influential American photographer. Meanwhile, the Women’s Committee held its 10th Craft Show, which had over the years become the largest annual fund-raising event for the Museum.

Patriotism was celebrated in 1987 with an exhibition in honor of the Bicentennial of the Constitution of the United States--Federal Philadelphia, 1785–1825: The Athens of the Western World. The Department of American Art was also given the Lloyd and Edith Goodrich, Whitney Museum of American Art, Thomas Eakins Archives that year, an extensive group of research materials that further strengthened the Museum’s position as a center for Eakins scholarship and study. 1987 also saw the Division of Education initiate its VAST summer seminars for area school teachers, as well as art history courses and programs specifically designed for families. A few weeks later, the Museum hosted the first annual College Day for colleges and universities all over the Delaware Valley area.

In July, as part of its celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Marcel Duchamp, the Museum published an award-winning facsimile of the instruction manual prepared to accompany Étant donnés. The exhibition A propos of Duchamp 1887/1987 opened a few months later, in which virtually everything by Duchamp which the Museum owned at that time was displayed. A performance by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, a symposium of international scholars, and a panel discussion by contemporary artists accompanied the show, and Madame Marcel Duchamp attended the first weekend of activities. Meanwhile, a gift of two Cézanne sketchbooks from Mr. and Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg brought the artist’s innermost thoughts and creative processes into conjunction with the Museum’s already remarkable collection of Cézanne’s paintings.

In June 1988, Jasper Johns was awarded the Golden Lion, the Grand Prize for Best Artist in the 43rd Venice Biennale. The retrospective of his work had been organized by the Museum for the U.S. Pavilion, and in the fall of that year Johns attended the opening of the exhibition at the Museum--its only U.S. showing. The West Entrance Foyer also saw a dramatic redesign in 1988, with a spectacular new central desk and a panoply of new colors for the walls and ceiling. According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the redesign--which was done by the famous Philadelphia Architecture firm Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates--spoke "to the vitality and diversity of the Museum’s remarkable collections."

1989 began with a February ruling by the Court of Common Pleas that authorized the Museum’s plan to integrate the galleries of paintings from the John G. Johnson collection, previously installed in a separate mandated suite of galleries, with the Museum's own holdings. This would allow for a more unified, chronological presentation of European art from the 14th through the 19th centuries. In the spring, newly renovated galleries devoted to American silver and decorative arts opened to the public, with state-of-the-art, airtight cases designed specifically for the display of silver and other metals. Also that spring, the Annenberg galleries were presented for the first time in their entirety. The Impressionist and Post-impressionist masterpieces contained therein, including works by Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Renoir, and others, soon proved to be among the Museum’s most popular.

As a way of recognizing Landmark Renewal Fund donors of the highest caliber, the Griffin Society was established in 1989 to honor the Trustees, other individuals, foundations, and corporations who had donated $100,000 or more to the campaign. The names were subsequently listed on a donor "Wall of Honor" in the Museum’s West Entrance Foyer. The campaign was already enormously successful; by summer almost 79% of the total goal had been raised.

In the fall of 1989, the exhibition Building the City Beautiful was organized in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania. A tribute to the design of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (with a particular focus on its museums), the show recognized the complex mix of civic pride, politics, economics, and generosity that surrounded the opening of the Museum’s main building in 1928. That fall also saw the installation of Fifty Days at Illium, Cy Twombly’s dramatic and provocative 10-panel cycle of paintings that follows and reflects incidents in Homer’s The Iliad. In October, Mme. Juliet Man Ray arrived from Paris to attend the gala preview party of the exhibition Perpetual Motif: The Art of Man Ray. A lively program of lectures, films, and performances celebrated the spirit of this Philadelphia-born pioneer of Dada and surrealism.

The decade came to a close with the reopening of the Rodin Museum to the public after being renovated for the first time since it was built in 1929. The renovation project was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Women’s Committee.

Major Exhibitions

  • 1980: Futurism and the International Avant-Garde
  • 1981: Manifestations of Shiva
  • 1982: Treasures of Ancient Nigeria; Thomas Eakins: Artist of Philadelphia
  • 1983: Pennsylvania Germans: A Celebration of Their Arts; Design Since 1945
  • 1984: Jonathan Borofsky
  • 1985: Marc Chagall Retrospective
  • 1986: Diego Rivera
  • 1987: Federal Philadelphia, 1785–1825: The Athens of the Western World; A propos of Duchamp 1887/1987
  • 1988: Masters of 17th Century Dutch Landscape Painting
  • 1989: Masterpieces of Impressionism and Post Impressionism: the Annenberg Collection; Jasper Johns ; Building the City Beautiful

Major Gifts and Acquisitions

  • 1980: Edgar Degas’s After the Bath
  • 1983: Purchase and gift of the Cadwalader Collection of Early American paintings and decorative art
  • 1985: Muriel and Philip Berman Collection of Prints; Anslem Keifer’s Nigredo; William Rush's Comedy and Tragedy
  • 1986: The Henry P. McIlhenny Collection; Marc Chagall’s A Wheatfield on a Summer’s Afternoon
  • 1987: Two Cézanne sketchbooks from Mr. and Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg
  • 1989: Cy Twombly’s Fifty Days at Iliam

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