Three years ago I was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art getting an early look at the Dali retrospective that would be one their big shows that year. It was an exhibition that would try to make the case that Dali’s later work was more important than we usually think it is. The show had some persuasive late Dalis in it, but not the one I happened to be standing in front of when I heard someone coming up from behind me to annouce in a big exuberant voice: “Just look at that magnificent picture!” It was, of course, Anne d’Harnoncourt, the Philadelphia museum’s indefatigable director. She was talking to me at full d’Harnoncourt pitch, urging me to see the picture the way she saw it, which was the way she saw so many things, wholeheartedly. I can promise you I took a second look.
This morning I learned that d’Harnoncourt died unexpectedly last night at the age of 64. She arrived at the museum in 1967 and was running it just 15 years later. There were many great shows under her tenure, including the big Cezanne blockbuster in 1996 and the spectacular Barnett Newman survey in 2002. She also put in motion the museum’s big and still ongoing expansion and renovation. She was a lovely woman, a smart administrator, a famously tireless advocate for the arts in her city and a blithe spirit.
There’s more about her here.