René d’Harnoncourt (Vienna, 1901 – Long Island, NY, 1968) was the director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art between 1949 and 1968. He spent a large part of his career researching and exhibiting Latin American and Native American art. During his time at the helm of the aforementioned New York museum, Guernica was shown in a wide array of exhibitions, not only inside the museum but also around the USA and overseas, until it was decided in 1958 that the painting would no longer be loaned out for conservation reasons.
After studying Chemistry and Philosophy at university, René d’Harnoncourt soon became interested in art, especially “primitive art”, devoting his time, non-professionally, to painting. In 1925 he moved to Mexico, where he would come into contact with collectors and artists alike, both Mexican and American, sparking his interest in the country’s art and art across Latin America, which would stretch to other places around the world. The outcome of these years was his 1930 exhibition Mexican Arts, which toured around fourteen American cities. Despite returning to Austria for a short time, he permanently settled in the USA in 1933, obtaining citizenship in 1939.
D’Harnoncourt curated the exhibition Indian Art of the United States (1939), sponsored by the Committee for the Golden Gate International Exposition, San Francisco. An expanded version of the show went on display in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1941, and in 1944, under the initiative of Nelson Rockefeller, D’Harnoncourt joined the museum team as both vice-president in charge of Foreign Activities and as director of the Department of Manual Industries. One of his first undertakings was the management of loans for the exhibition Picasso (1944) with the Mexican Society of Modern Art. In conjunction with his post at the helm of the Museum of Modern Art, and while Alfred H. Barr undertook the role of director in the Department of Painting and Sculpture and then later as director of the museum’s Collections, Guernica was requested for different Picasso retrospectives, both inside the USA and overseas. Subsequently, both arranged the loans and conditions with the artist. D’Harnoncourt pursued his interest in non-Western art and its dissemination, organising a range of exhibitions such as Arts of the South Seas (1946) and Ancient Arts of the Andes (1954). He retired in June 1968, and, just two months later, was tragically killed in a traffic accident.