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Mad for Modernism: Earl Horter and His Collection

March 7–May 16, 1999

Between the two World Wars, Philadelphia was, in many ways, brilliantly ahead of its time--Leopold Stokowski inspired the Philadelphia Orchestra to produce the world-famous Philadelphia sound, Dr. Albert C. Barnes shocked critics with his extraordinary collection of modern European art, and the PSFS building soared above Market Street to become one of the first and greatest modern skyscrapers. The Philadelphia artist Earl Horter (1880-1940) was at the center of this excitement. Mad for Modernism: Earl Horter and His Collection will reconstruct and tell the story of his important collection of European and American modern art, African sculpture, and Native American artifacts, as well as present Horter himself as an artist. Largely assemble during the 1920s and dispersed before Horter's death in 1940, his collection reveals the dynamic and creative energies at work among a circle of contemporary artists and their friends in Philadelphia during the 1920s and '30s. It will include some 50 paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints by the seminal European figures in early modern art such as Picasso, Braque, Duchamp and Brancusi, as well as Horter's American colleagues such as Charles Sheeler and Arthur B. Carles. A group of 20 African sculptures and Native American artifacts represent other important components of Horter's collection.

Scholars of modern art often encounter Horter's name, for it appears in the individual histories of many famous works of art, from Picasso's Portrait of Daniel Henry Kahnweiler (1910) now in the Art Institute of Chicago, to Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 1 (1911) in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to Charles Sheeler's Church Street El (1920) in the Cleveland Museum of Art. However, nearly all knowledge of the distinction and character of Horter's collection as a whole has been lost; as early as 1931, the collection began to be dispersed as a result of the artist's financial reverses during the Depression. Reassembling these works for the very first time, Mad for Modernism will close a long-recognized gap in the history of collecting modern art in the United States.


A fully illustrated catalogue of the exhibition with essays by Innis Howe Shoemaker on Horter's modern collection, Christa Clarke on his African collection and William S. Wierzbowski on his collection of Native American art.

Main Building


The exhibition was made possible in part by grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts, The William Penn Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and by a gift from Charles K. Williams II.


Innis Howe Shoemaker • The Audrey and William H. Helfand Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

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