ReactorWeekend

Required Reading: Barnes Museum Special

by Hrag Vartanian on May 20, 2012

Top, An artist's rendering of the "light box" of the Barnes Museum, and left to right on bottom row, Giorgio de Chirico's "Dr. Albert C. Barnes" (1926), Henri Matisse's "Red Madras Headdress " (1907) and Picasso's "Head of a Woman" (1907) (images via barnesfoundation.org)

This week, critics weigh in on the new Barnes Foundation museum in central Philadelphia … and in other non-Barnes-related links … discotecture, the impact of progressive architectural ideas on urbanism and the voice of Rene Magritte.

 This week, the art world is chattering about the Barnes Foundation and its controversial move to Logan Square in central Philadelphia.

Here’s the low down …

 First the AP story via The Times Union newspaper in Albany, New York:

It may look like a museum but officials are quick to point out that the Barnes will remain true to — and expand upon — the educational mission that its creator intended. Opponents say removing the collection from its original context has created a “McBarnes,” despite the efforts to replicate the dizzying floor-to-ceiling arrangements of paintings, furniture and metalwork that underscored Barnes’ eccentric philosophy of art appreciation.

 Travel and Leisure magazine give us the mind-numbing statistics:

Numbers may mean little but there is an astounding embarrassment of riches: 181 works by Renoir (the largest group of the artist’s paintings anywhere), 69 by Cézanne, 59 by Matisse, 46 by Picasso…, 7 by van Gogh; early twentieth-century American paintings (William Glackens and Maurice Prendergast); Old Masters, including El Greco, Paolo Veronese, Frans Hal; 125 African sculptures and masks, Native American ceramics, and more, a lot more …

 New York Times critic Roberta Smith, who appears to be a fan of everything nowadays, likes it:

Others, myself included, did not object to the move per se, but felt that faithfully reproducing the old Barnes in the new space, as promised by the trustees, was a terrible idea. To us it seemed time to at least loosen up Barnes’s straitjacketed displays, wonderful as they often were. And why go to the trouble of moving the collection to a more accessible location when the galleries were not going to be any bigger?

And yet the new Barnes proves all of us wrong. Against all odds, the museum that opens to the public on Saturday is still very much the old Barnes, only better.

 Christopher Knight, of the LA Times, predictably doesn’t like the new museum, which he writes:

The result is one part Colonial Williamsburg, where authentic and ersatz mingle; one part Lehman Wing, where an excellent New York collector’s expensive period taste is enshrined in a Metropolitan Museum of Art replica of his apartment; and one partDisneyland’s Main Street U.S.A., where a spiffed-up version of what time has torn asunder offers commercial entertainment.

 Writing for Vanity Fair, Paul Goldberger thinks the building is great:

This building won’t please the absolutists, the people we should probably call Barnes fundamentalists, because nothing would please them short of a return to the way things were. But it really ought to please everybody else, because — to cut to the chase — the new Barnes is absolutely wonderful.

 Joel Rose of NPR thinks other than the location there is little else different about the new Barnes:

Barnes Foundation officials promised a Pennsylvania judge they would preserve the dimensions of the original galleries; in return, he gave them permission to move the collection to a new $200 million building in Philadelphia. They also pledged to re-create the idiosyncratic “ensembles” of paintings, furniture and metalwork conceived and arranged by founder Albert Barnes in the first half of the 20th century. Even the burlap color of the walls looks the same. But that didn’t stop the architects from making a few … tweaks.

 Blake Gopnik of The Daily Beast opines:

So the collection fell into the hands of the Philadelphia establishment Barnes hated … and mostly that’s been a good thing. More people can see the art, in better conditions than ever before. Numbers will be limited to avoid overcrowding, but that still leaves one major caveat: although the move from the suburbs has put the collection much nearer to the disempowered masses and minorities that Barnes had cared about, an $18 ticket charge will help keep them away. Some part of the hundreds of millions raised for the move should have been set aside to keep admission free.

 Inga Saffron, the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s architecture critic, thinks the building is great but it’s not an example of exemplary urbanism:

But while there are many moments of breathtaking refinement, and the galleries themselves are a revelation, the result is sadly – no, tragically – a long way from being a successful addition to the city.

 The music critic at the Philadelphia Inquirer also wades into the discussion and thinks the new Barnes Museum removes some of the institution’s quirkiness:

Gone forever, of course, is any claim to authenticity. Whatever the Barnes of 2012 and beyond becomes, visitors will never again have the same fully prescribed experience, the powerful feeling of being led around the museum by the hand of its founder.

 And he goes further to tie these changes to the city’s changing face:

Paradoxically, though, the repackaging of the Barnes may also be seen as the latest in a string of changes to Philadelphia that dilute its special character — advancements that bring Philadelphia into conformity with what visitors from other places may expect, but that also render the city more generic.

 The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that anti-poverty protesters aren’t happy with the city of Philadelphia’s value system, which they say favors tourism over the needs of its citizens:

Inside the Barnes, guests were served lamb chops and smoked salmon cannolis with a lemon aioli sauce along with champagne and red and white wine at the $1,500-a-plate opening-reception dinner.

Outside, at 20th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the menu was drastically different.

A coalition of homeless-advocacy groups and others protesting the Barnes’ move from Merion dined on doughnut holes, salmon dip, bread, apples, bagels, rice, and string beans served on paper plates with plastic utensils.

They said they hoped to send Mayor Nutter a message.

“A city that prioritizes tourism over feeding starving, homeless people is a city without a soul,” said Laura Evangelisto, 31, a member of Food Not Bombs, which organized the protest.

 And for those interested in who was at the opening night gala, there’s this.

 And Forces has compiled a series of video tours of the new museum.

Now in non-Barnes related links:

 Vice Magazine has been taking a look at “the future of nightlife” and this episode focuses on discotecture, particularly the New York clubs of Limelight, Studio 54, Mudd Club, Area and Palladium.

 Speaking of architecture, writing for the New York Times Michael Kimmelman takes a look at the progression architectural vision of Medellin, Columbia, which (some seem to suggest) helped reduce crime:

I arrived in Medellín to see the ambitious and photogenic buildings that have gone up, but also to find what remains undone. The murder rate, while hardly low, is now under 60 per 100,000. Architecture alone obviously doesn’t account for the drop in homicides, but the two aren’t unrelated, either. Around the world, followers of architecture with a capital A have focused so much of their attention on formal experiments, as if aesthetics and social activism, twin Modernist concerns, were mutually exclusive. But Medellín is proof that they’re not, and shouldn’t be. Architecture, here and elsewhere, acts as part of a larger social and economic ecology, or else it elects to be a luxury, meaningless except to itself.

 And the voice of René Magritte, recorded in 1926, discussing “Le surréalisme et les questions” [MP3 link] has been uploaded to UbuWeb.

Required Reading is published every Sunday morning EST, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts or photo essays worth a second look.

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