D'Harnoncourt redefined exhibition making and the parameters of art itself
Ren d'Harnoncourt served as the director of the Museum of Modern Art from 1949 to 1968, and was known for his conscientious approach to curating exhibitions and his genius for installation design and display. His interest in non-Western and non-modern art shaped much of MoMA's ambitious programming in the mid-20th century: in addition to shows addressing modern art, such as The Sculpture of Picasso (1968) and Modern Art in Your Life (1949), he organized exhibitions devoted to themes not generally associated with MoMA, including Indian Art of the United States (1941), Arts of the South Seas (1946), Ancient Arts of the Andes (1954) and Art of the Asmat: The Collection of Michael C. Rockefeller (1962).
This publication delves deep into the MoMA Archives to reveal d'Harnoncourt's mastery of installation through an essay by Michelle Elligott and an exploration of 12 of the exhibitions he installed at MoMA, each richly illustrated by d'Harnoncourt's mostly previously unpublished sketches alongside exhibition photographs. A master draftsman, d'Harnoncourt produced meticulous sketches of installation vistas as well as the objects included in his exhibitions. An illustrated chronology of d'Harnoncourt's life rounds out the volume, detailing his multifaceted journey from birth as a count into a landowning family in Austria, to his time as a commercial artist in Mexico, to his post working for Nelson A. Rockefeller in the US State Department (Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs), which eventually led to his appointment at MoMA.
Michelle Elligott is the Chief of Archives, Library, and Research Collections at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. She recently organized Devenir moderne, part of the MoMA exhibition Etre moderne at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. She codirected the Museum's widely acclaimed Exhibition History web archive project; coedited the institution's first self-published history, Art in Our Time: A Chronicle of The Museum of Modern Art (2004); and cocurated the MoMA PS1 exhibition 1969.