Between 1949 and 1956, René d'Harnoncourt was Nelson Rockefeller's closest collaborator in shaping his collection of "primitive art." In order to strategically assemble what would become one of the world's great holdings of non-Western art, d'Harnoncourt devised a systematized process for charting acquisition goals. To complement Rockefeller's discerning and adventurous eye as a collector, d'Harnoncourt established a template for the collection that took the form of four loose-leaf notebooks titled Catalog and Desiderata devoted to African, Oceanic, Native American, and Precolumbian arts.
The notebooks feature sketches by d'Harnoncourt—an expert draftsman—and thumbnail photographs. The drawings reproduce works published in the seminal books and exhibition catalogues that he considered "ideal" examples of specific genres to be attained for the Rockefeller collection. Photographs were added as works in these categories were acquired from New York private galleries. Each notebook includes a map and bibliography. Given that d'Harnoncourt was well versed in the arts from the Americas, he did not feel the need to rely on this system for that area to the same degree as for Africa and Oceania. Accordingly, the two notebooks dedicated to the Americas are comparatively thin. The notebooks document the development of the canon of "primitive art" during the first half of the twentieth century as well as New York's market for these arts during the 1950s.