Architecture, art history, and city politics come together in the new publication Making a Modern Classic: The Architecture of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a lively account of the evolution of the landmark building that houses the Museum's celebrated and encyclopedic collection of several hundred thousand works of art. Written by the architectural historian David B. Brownlee, with a preface by the internationally renowned architect Robert Venturi, the history spans the decades of planning that preceded the 1928 opening of what the painter Henry McCarter referred to as a "wonderful Greek garage," through the ambitious projects to reinstall the Museum's interior during the 1990s.
The 126-page text is documented with 143 illustrations, including an evocative portfolio by Danish-born architectural photographer Sigurd Fischer, featuring detailed views of the just-completed building in 1928. Graydon Wood, the Museum's Senior Photographer and an experienced architectural photographer, contributed a 40 new color images of the building today, from the vast retaining walls to period rooms deep inside the Museum to stunning views of the building from City Hall and across the Schuylkill.
Occupying a spectacular site on a hill by the banks of the Schuylkill River, and visible from the center of the city down the tree-lined boulevard of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Museum building has excited the admiration and interest of visitors to Philadelphia for almost 70 years. "We wanted to have a book that is as spectacular as the building," notes Anne d'Harnoncourt, the Museum's Director and CEO, "and David Brownlee's engaging and authoritative text draws the reader into the history of the building just as our collections and exhibitions draw people to the Museum itself."
The design of the Philadelphia Museum of Art was the collaborative effort of the Philadelphia architectural firm of Horace Trumbauer (whose chief designer was Julian Abele, the first African American graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's architecture program), and the firm of Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary. While the Museum building is notable not only for the classically derived detail of its polychrome decoration and the mythological bronze beasts that patrol its blue-tile roof, its surprisingly adaptable interior has been as welcoming to contemporary art as it is to medieval paintings, Shaker furniture, and even a Japanese teahouse.
This project is the third that David Brownlee, professor and graduate chair of art history at the University of Pennsylvania, has undertaken for the Museum. In 1989 he wrote the publication accompanying the exhibition Building the City Beautiful: The Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (August 19 - October 29, 1989; published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art), and in 1991 Dr. Brownlee, together with David G. De Long, was the author of Louis I. Kahn: In the Realm of Architecture (complementing an exhibition on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from October 20, 1991 - January 5, 1992; the book and exhibition were prepared by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art).
Making a Modern Classic is available at the Museum Stores and other retailers, and joins the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook to the Collections (1995), which was the first comprehensive guide to the Museum's collections, and the most recent of the Museum's efforts to publish its vast and varied holdings. The Handbook features color illustrations, full captions and brief texts written by the curatorial staff describing over 420 works of art, as well as overviews of each curatorial department and a history of the Museum.