Visiting the Barnes Foundation was always high on my list of things to do during my next visit to Philadelphia. Unfortunately, I still haven’t managed to make it to Philadelphia—and as of the end of June, the Barnes collection is no longer on view in its legendarily eccentric digs in suburban Merion. A high-profile court ruling a few years ago allowed the cash-strapped Barnes to move to a new location on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia, meaning that all those Renoirs and Cezannes and Picassos will be easier for most audiences to see. But convenience comes at a cost: those who opposed the move rightly argue that the particular ambiance of the Merion location was what made the Barnes collection so special, and even if the works in the new location are hung the same way Dr. Barnes arranged them in the old one, things just won’t quite be the same.
Which is why we should be grateful to the New York Times for at least attempting to preserve a bit of the Barnes as it was in an interactive feature than went online earlier this week. The Times’ virtual version of the Barnes allows visitors to tour four rooms of the Merion building and zoom in on selected works while listening to narration by NYT arts reporter Randy Kennedy. Sure, it might be an even more alien way of looking at the works than Dr. Barnes intended, but for now it’s the next best thing to being there—especially since there’s no “there” there anymore.
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