Director's Exhibition records
Held at: Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives [Contact Us]Box 7646, Philadelphia, PA, 19101-7646
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) began as a legacy of the great Centennial Exhibition of 1876, held in Fairmount Park. At the conclusion of the celebrations, Memorial Hall--which had been constructed as the Exhibition's art gallery-- remained open as the Pennsylvania Museum of Art and Industry "for the improvement and enjoyment of the people of the Commonwealth."
In the first few decades, the collections consisted of objects of an industrial nature, as well as fine and decorative art objects such as European ceramics. Books were also among the Museum's earliest acquisitions, as were antique furniture, enamels, carved ivories, jewelry, metalwork, glass, pottery, porcelain, textiles, and paintings.
In the early 1900s, the Museum published its first collection handbook and initiated an Education program for the general public. It wasn't long before a Membership program was in place, and plans for a new building gained momentum in the following decade.
Director Fiske Kimball set the tone for a new era in the 1920s, and the new building on Fairmount--what is now the Main Building--opened with an attendance record of one million visitors in its first year. Valiant marketing efforts and the skillful leadership of President J. Stogdell Stokes helped to keep the Museum vital during the Great Depression of the 1930s, while the 1940s witnessed extraordinary growth in the collections with a number of important gifts--including the John D. McIlhenny Collection and the George Grey Barnard Collection.
Acquisitions of the 1950s, such as the Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection and the A.E. Gallatin Collection, assured the Museum's prominence as a place in which to see masterpieces of early modern art. A number of period rooms were opened to the public as well, and the decade saw the gift of Grace Kelly's wedding dress following her royal 1956 wedding to Prince Rainier III of Monaco.
Conservation of objects and the renovation of the building were themes of the 1960s, with major gifts including The Mr. and Mrs. Carroll S. Tyson, Jr. Collection, The Samuel S. White III and Vera White Collection, 71 objects from designer Elsa Schiaparelli, and Marcel Duchamp's enigmatic Etant donnes. Renovation was a continued theme in the 1970s, as the institution prepared for grand celebrations in honor of the Museum's Centennial and the nation's Bicentennial. The 1980s witnessed still more growth, with acquisitions ranging from Edgar Degas’s After the Bath to Cy Twombly's Fifty Days at Iliam.
The Director’s Exhibition records of the Philadelphia Museum of Art contain documentation of exhibition activities at the Museum. These records are not a comprehensive account of exhibitions held by the Museum, but an ongoing file produced by the executive office in the course of administering exhibitions for the Museum, kept in the Director’s office between 1915 and 1981. Additional exhibition records may be located within a specific Director’s records, or in Curatorial records; Museum Directors during this period included Edwin Atlee Barber, Langdon Warner, Fiske Kimball, Henri Gabriel Marceau, Evan Turner, and Jean Sutherland Boggs.
The Exhibition records are arranged chronologically by year in a single series. Each year is organized chronologically by the opening date of the exhibitions, although records in the files may pre- or post-date the exhibition dates. In other collections, such as Directors’ and Curatorial records, exhibitions are often identified by a working title; however, in this collection, every attempt has been made to identify the records with the formal name of the exhibition. The exhibition master list created by the Archives may be consulted to establish the preferred exhibition name and opening date. When possible, the opening events for new galleries are included in the exhibition chronology by the date of the formal opening event. Other projects, including proposed and rejected exhibitions, will be found at the end of a year. During Jean Sutherland Boggs’ tenure, the bulk of the financial records were arranged together at the end of the exhibition chronology; this arrangement has been maintained. These folders are arranged by fiscal year, starting with 1980, and then alphabetically within each fiscal year. One set was originally labeled "fiscal year 1981 accounts", followed by the folder title. This was also maintained along with the original alphabetical arrangement. Non-exhibit events are included in this alphabet and some exhibits were ordered by the last name of the artist rather than the title of the show. A final set of folders maintained by the Boggs office was labeled “rejected exhibitions.” This legacy filing system was also maintained: folders are arranged alphabetically by the institution or individual who proposed the exhibition. Some of these folder titles include the dates proposed for the exhibition. Records for rejected proposals from within the museum are also included here, further arranged by the name of the staff member submitting the proposal.
Some of the exhibition files are as spare as one promotional item, such as an invitation, announcement, or poster. Some exhibits are represented by more comprehensive documentation and folders may contain correspondence, reports, and memoranda from multiple sources within the Museum, as well as printed materials, including invitations, posters, events announcements, press releases, press clippings, and published catalogs. Many files contain object documentation, including registrar’s records, photographs, and lists associated with an exhibition. Some Museum sponsored competitions, which culminated in juried exhibitions of sculpture and photography, are also included in this collection; those files may contain artist applications and materials that document jury proceedings. A notable example of this is the 2nd International Photography Salon (1933 May 6) where letters from Charles Sheeler, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and Paul Strand may be found.
Records may include information about the inception, preparation, and mounting of an exhibition, as well as special projects and events that were scheduled to take place during the exhibition. Financial reports and documentation of loans of artwork, insurance, shipping and damages are often included in the documentation of larger exhibitions. Traveling exhibitions originating at the Museum are documented, as well as exhibitions arranged co-operatively as loan exhibitions; documentation from other venues is sometimes present. The legacy term “circulating exhibitions” was maintained wherever it was specifically associated with the original folder title. An interesting example of an exchange exhibition is Masterpieces of Modern Art from the Philadelphia Museum of Art—in working files often referred to only as “the Exchange Exhibit”-- which was sent to the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, India, shortly before the Manifestations of Shiva exhibition opened at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
These records would be of interest to researchers studying the history and trends of museum exhibitions in general, or those interested in the evolution of specific exhibitions and types of programing initiated by the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Some files may provide information about the provenance of specific objects or art works, and promotional materials offer insight into graphic design and printing trends during this period.
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2013-2014, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 16 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 4 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, arrange items within folders or complete any preservation work.
- Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Finding aid prepared by Carey Hedlund and Alina Josan
- Finding Aid Date
- 2014 February 4
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Archives with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.