Anne d'Harnoncourt, the longtime curator of the Philadelphia Museum of Art died this past weekend. To me, she was an inspirational woman; very educated, highly refined, but very down to earth and almost evangelical in her belief that art is part of the city's lifeblood. The exhibits that took place during her tenure (1971 through 2008) were unbelievable and formed my love for fine art. As a child I was able to see Marcel Duchamp (the museum has the largest collection in the country), learn to appreciate the differences between the various eras of European art and developed a love of Asian and modern art. Most people are most familiar with the Philadelphia art museum via the Rocky films (and the museum graciously displays that awful Rocky sculpture in the gardens that lead up to the massive stairway and his footsteps at the top of the staircase,
but it's the treasures inside that separate Philadelphia.
I'm a museum freak, I love, love, love them. I try to hit an art museum in every city that I visit and have been lucky enough to see the major art museums in many cities in the US and in Europe. The National Gallery and the British Museum, the Louvre, the Musee D'Orsay, the Pitti, the Vatican, Bibao, the Met, MOMA, the Guggenheim, Boston's Museum of Fine Art, The National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Gallery and SFMOMA, all are spectacular. I hit a city, I go to the art museum. I even loved the Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City, Remingtons to die for, but I will always have a special place for the Philly Museum. Because it's not as massive as the other museums, it's digestible, and because it's smaller, there is an emphasis to have quality be the theme in the galleries. There are world famous paintings for sure, but there are also lesser known pieces from the same audiences that are sometimes more incredible than their better known counterparts. There aren't a lot of controversial pieces, but the museum didn't shy away from it, it just tended to be in the temporary or special exhibits - and what ones they were, I've written about Frida Kahlo, which as a huge hit, but also, Monet, Van Gogh, the Barnes, Dali, Cezanne, Goya, Delacroix, Picasso and the list goes on. I've never had the opportunity to meet her, but she was a familiar face and I had seen her on occasion in the museum.
I hope that who ever has the task of filling d'Harnoncourt's shoes preserves the notion of quality as they pursue new avenues of art. It's something that is troubling the city, and I think is something that is not specific to the city. In this morning's paper, an article about this noted that not only will Philadelphia be looking for a new CEO/director. Philadelphia joins the Guggenheim, Seattle, and the Met are all looking, too. I'm amazed that all of these incredible museums are sans leadership. Is it indicative of our culture over the last decade? I find it amazing that we turn out investment bankers like puppies, but the arts continue to wither on the vine. I think it's a telling picture of how lopsided life has become in the last decade. Art and the arts are essential to balanced lives. Art enables you to get away from day to day pressure and think outside of the box - it affects everyone in a highly personal way. You can use it to recharge your batteries, to express yourself, release your anger, feel love or pure joy. It shows the many faces of beauty, whether its a Rubenesque bather, or a weathered Bedouin, or a child. It forces you to see diversity, yet allows you to find comfort in what pleases you again and again. What saddens me is that we as a society repeatedly fail to see the importance of this balance. What are your thoughts about this? Do you see this lack of balance?