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Nelson A. Rockefeller (1908 Bar Harbor, Maine–1979 New York, N.Y.)

Nelson A. Rockefeller (1908 Bar Harbor, Maine–1979 New York, N.Y.). Photograph by Michael Fredericks

Scion of one of the nation's most significant philanthropic families, Rockefeller was elected to four consecutive terms as governor of New York (1959–73) before serving as vice president of the United States under Gerald Ford (1974–77). His political legacy was matched by his involvement in the New York art scene. He served as trustee, treasurer, president, and chairman of the board at the Museum of Modern Art; trustee at The Metropolitan Museum of Art; director of the Office of Inter-American Affairs; and assistant secretary of state for American Republic Affairs. With d'Harnoncourt and Goldwater, Rockefeller assembled one of the world's most renowned collections of African, Oceanic, and Precolumbian art, which he made public in 1957 with the opening of the Museum of Primitive Art. In 1969 he gave the collection to the Metropolitan, where it has been housed in the wing named in honor of his late son, Michael A. Rockefeller, who shared his passion for art.

Photograph by Michael Fredericks


René d'Harnoncourt (1901 Vienna, Austria–1968 Long Island, N.Y.)

René d'Harnoncourt (1901 Vienna, Austria–1968 Long Island, N.Y.). Photo © Waintrob, Budd Studio, courtesy of The Waintrob Project Project for the Visual Arts

Educated in Graz and Vienna, d'Harnoncourt had aspired to be a chemist. After World War I, he moved to Mexico, where by 1927 he had begun selling antiques and contemporary art. He developed a keen interest in Mexican folk art, which he featured in a groundbreaking exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in 1930. In 1936 he was appointed general manager of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Five years later he joined the Museum of Modern Art, eventually serving as its director (1949–67). A personal advisor to Nelson Rockefeller, d'Harnoncourt was a formative influence behind the Metropolitan's collection of African, Oceanic, and Precolumbian art.

Photo © Waintrob, Budd Studio, courtesy of The Waintrob Project Project for the Visual Arts


Robert Goldwater (1907 New York, N.Y.–1973 New York, N.Y.)

Robert Goldwater (1907 New York, N.Y.–1973 New York, N.Y.)

Goldwater's pioneering dissertation at Harvard University, Primitivism and Modern Painting (1938), charted the influence of African, Oceanic, and American precolonial traditions on twentieth-century art in the West. Goldwater reviewed the Museum of Modern Art's 1935 landmark exhibition of African art and in 1957 co-curated its "Modern Art in Your Life" with d'Harnoncourt. He taught art history at New York University and Queens College. In 1956 Goldwater was appointed director of the Museum of Primitive Art. Until his death, he oversaw the museum's extensive program of landmark exhibitions, many of which helped to establish the canon of what was then called "primitive" art.