Barnes Foundation Unveils New Design Plans


NEW YORK TIMES: The Barnes Foundation, the major art collection that fought for years to relocate from suburban Philadelphia to the city’s downtown, has taken another big step in that direction. A design for its new building there, by the New York architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, is to be officially unveiled this week. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Web site published a series of renderings of the project on Monday. MORE

INQUIRER: Today – the day the Barnes Foundation, long of Latchs Lane in Merion, unveils the design for its $200 million gallery on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway – is one that many in the art world will regard as infamous, and many in Philadelphia will applaud. The incomparable Barnes collection won’t be moving from its home of 84 years just yet; the city Art Commission, which oversees Parkway construction, will review the concept this morning and is barneslide2_1.jpgexpected to endorse it, with final approval to follow. The opening is not scheduled until 2012. But today’s action is evidence that the move has overcome all legal and political efforts to block it – not that evidence matters to partisans in the endless squabbling over the fate of a rich patent-medicine maker’s aesthetic accretions.

A new documentary film, director Don Argott’s The Art of the Steal, lays out the case for move-as-infamy – the tale of how the collection of Renoirs, Cezannes, Matisses, and other early modernist works has been stolen by its covetous enemies and moved to an urban cultural corridor. All this was done, says the film, with indifference to the foundation’s singularity and contempt for the desires of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, friend of the “plain people” and avowed opponent of what the movie calls “WASPy” local elites (led by Walter Annenberg, once owner of The Inquirer, and Raymond Perelman, former chair of the Philadelphia Museum of Art). In this view, the Barnes move, a decades-long, slow-motion action adventure, is the result of an immense conspiracy. Yet the forces leading to it are far more human, contradictory, and mundane than any Manichean conspiracy theory would have it. Barnes needed no vast collection of enemies; he had himself. MORE

barnes_1dechirico.jpgVILLAGE VOICE: The Art of the Steal is a smoothly assembled talking-head account of art commerce and art as commerce—how the rural, education-focused Barnes Foundation lost its squillion-dollar post-impressionist-heavy collection to Philly. With the timeless appeal of an inheritance feud, Don Argott’s debut reminds us how objects of great value attract great forces, here in the form of municipal maneuvers and decades-old grudges, partly recounted by carping Barnesians. Audience aesthetes can fret over civilization’s patrimony and join the institution’s founder—Depression-era bootstrapper Albert C. Barnes, who died in 1951—in feeling they were right all along about philistines. MORE

REVERSE SHOT: In 1922, a formerly blue-collar pharmacist named Dr. Albert C. Barnes used his newly acquired millions to create a most unusual art museum in South Merion, a small suburb near Philadelphia. With no previous exposure to the art world, Barnes made brave purchases based on his own tastes rather than those of the respected art institutions, acquiring artists unknown or unpopular among elite American society at the time, including Picasso, Monet, Manet, Matisse, and Cezanne. Barnes amassed what later came to be known as the largest and most significant collection of Impressionist, Postimpressionist, and Modernist art in the entire world. Unfortunately, the Philadelphia art scene failed to notice its importance, laughing his one public exhibition out of town, and leaving him with a lasting chip on his shoulder about “the man.” MORE

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *