"Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art," Sept. 29-Dec. 8, 2002, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2525 Pennsylvania Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa. 19130.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art celebrated its 125th birthday last year, but the gifts that resulted from a five-year campaign to enrich and broaden its holdings only went on view last month.
A mere $8.5 million in donations and out-sized donor largesse have netted the museum whole collections of extraordinary works. Their extent can be only hinted at in the exhibition "Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art," but the number, diversity and quality of the new additions boggle the mind. Just consider, for instance, the two Monets, an early Thomas Cole and the sensational Ingres, and you're reeling from the visual stimulation of it all.
One of the many generous gifts is the Alvin O. Bellak collection of 88 Indian paintings and drawings, which ranges in date from the 1400s to the late 1800s. A robustly painted 17th-century Tantric work shows a deity atop a corpse in opaque watercolors with gold and silver paint. It is worlds away from the gracefully swaying bodies of the pastel-tinted The Gods Sing and Dance for Shiva and Parvati from the late 18th century. Yet each work, and the additional dozen or so on view, is an exquisite example of its kind. The catalogue illustrates only two pieces, but specialists will rejoice that the group is already the subject of a separate publication.
It must have been hard to select pieces from the Lynne and Harold Honickman gift of the Julien Levy collection of photographs. There are roughly 2,500 of them. Abundant with works of 19th- and turn-of-the-century European artists, like Nadar and Gertrude Käsebier, and Surrealists Dalí, Brassaï and Luis Buñuel, the collection includes 362 prints by Eugene Atget alone. It will join the museum's extensive holdings of Stieglitz and Paul Strand.
The museum was especially fortunate in acquiring ceramics. Pieces from the noted 71-work Stein Collection of Italian Renaissance majolica were featured along with pieces from a collection of more than 100 vessels from the Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati, Oh., and a sampling of more than 40 Korean and Chinese pottery works.
A fireman's coat from a collection of Japanese folk textiles shared the spotlight for fabrics with a lush brocaded day dress from a collection by the man who invented haute couture, Charles Frederick Worth. Pieces from not one but three collections of contemporary couture were nearby, allowing visitors to savor a Miró-inspired man's jacket by Yohji Yamamoto, a snappy orange Valentino outfit and a Vera Wang white wedding gown with an embroidered bustier-like bodice and flowing train.
American folk art got a boost from several collections and some dazzling individual pieces, like the Ammi Phillips portrait Blonde Boy with Primer, Peach, and Dog (ca. 1836) and a quilt, Order of Oddfellows Album Quilt (1853) from Dutchess County, N.Y. The late Derrel Depasse, who devoted most of her research to Joseph Yoakum, bequeathed 48 pieces to the museum, including many splendid Yoakums and a great Bill Traylor farm scene.
Pieces with a Philadelphia connection were also important works in their own right. Jean-Antoine Houdon's marble bust of Benjamin Franklin, a mahogany upholstered chair made for General John Cadwalader in 1770-71 and a suite of 24 Windsor chairs by Philadelphian Robert Gaw will fit right in with the rest of the museum's extensive American holdings.
Impressive individual gifts of paintings and drawings were plentiful. My favorites were a delicious bedroom scene by Fragonard, a Manet oil of a fruit basket and Winslow Homer's watercolor Building a Smudge.
This description does not do justice to the many wonderful things that the Philadelphia Museum has been given during the tenure of museum director and CEO Anne d'Harnoncourt.
Did I mention the American silver? The crest mask from Mali? The Jacques Villon prints? The Dan Graham pavilion?
This show has to qualify as an art installation miracle. Six huge galleries are chock-a-block with work, yet it all seems to nestle together quite happily. Alice Beamesderfer, associate director for collections and project support, organized the whole shebang and deserves the praises of patrons and visitors alike.
On a personal note, I must disclose that I am a donor of several works of folk art to the museum. While I don't think this has clouded my judgment of the show or the installation, visitors can decide for themselves.
If you can't go to Philly to see all the goodies, a representative sampling is available in a catalogue (hardcover $32, soft cover $26).
N. F. KARLINS is a New York art historian and critic.