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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.
Here’s the low down …
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.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now in non-Barnes related links:
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.
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.
From commissions to residencies and fellowships for artists, curators, and teachers, a list of opportunities that artists, writers, and art workers can apply for each month.
It is one thing to be a visionary and another to be one whose work holds your attention for a sustained period of time.
“Following Sonorous Bodies” is available online. The journal also seeks guest editors for themed issues, books, and more, as well as contributors for Issue 8, “Birds & Language.” Proposals are due December 15.
Regardless of which way the camera is pointing, Wearing shows a lively — and altogether merciless — interest in how people choose to tell their own stories.
Feldschuh understands that the actions and interactions of particles can be formulated mathematically but not illustrated visually.
These multimedia works debuting on Voice include a “Death Mechanism” and allow fans to collect the artist’s origin story, told specifically for the metaverse.
Shellyne Rodriguez and Danielle De Jesus powerfully respond to the continued attacks on their neighborhoods with works that validate and uplift elements of everyday urban Latinx life that are usually devalued.
This week, I’ve included a lot of humor because with the recent news on the coronavirus variant, we can all use it.
On December 13, learn about the Sam Fox School’s graduate programs in Visual Art and Illustration & Visual Culture, as well as the university’s competitive financial aid packages.
So legendarily precious and complex are the Fabergé eggs that they have become a byword for insane expenditure.
While performing a piece for Satellite Art Show, Xxavier Edward Carter was approached by a group of officers who threatened him with ten years in prison.
Gerke Dunkhase estimates that only half of the Benin bronzes in Germany are logged on the portal so far, calling the current database a “prototype” of what’s to come.