The memory of Anne d’Harnoncourt, the legendary director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, will always serve as a guide to me in my work as a curator of modern art. Until her premature death at 64 in 2008, she inspired and nurtured countless individuals to become better curators, donors, artists, and art appreciators. Primarily she did this by example, as a gracious leader with limitless energy for and commitment to the institution and people around her. As a young curator in Philadelphia I had the extraordinary privilege of learning by working with her every day.
Anne valued integrity, in art and in people, above all else. In an era in which the art world has had more than its share of commercialism and cynicism, she remained an unshakable idealist while not at all naive. Ever optimistic, she never let a setback discourage the continued pursuit of a goal, no matter how gargantuan the political or financial obstacles might have appeared.
In this economic landscape, the demands made of an art museum can seem extremely complicated, and the way to navigate through them labyrinthine at best. For me, Anne’s example is that things can remain very simple. She believed deeply that great art could enrich, and even change, anyone’s life, and that it was a museum’s job to be the place where that could happen.
Anne d’Harnoncourt and the Perelman Building are the subject of a WHYY Arts & Culture “Experience” episode from 2008. Ann Temkin is The Marie-Josee and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art and has spoken about its works of art on NYC-ARTS Curator’s Choice segments.