Thursday, February 3, 2011

Controversy Over An Art Museum

A few weeks ago, I rented a documentary movie about The Barnes Foundation.   I am not sure how many people are familiar with The Barnes that live outside the Philadelphia area.  It was started in 1922 by Dr. Albert Barnes, using money he had made by developing Argyrol, an anti-microbial.  It's primary purpose was art education.  Dr. Barnes had a vision of how to present art and education  and accumulated an amazing collection of paintings by such artists as Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse and Modigliani. He had an amazing eye for art and started buying the paintings before the major museums recognized their greatness.  If you would like to read more about it, click here.

The Barnes is located in an affluent suburban neighborhood on a quiet street right outside of Philadelphia.  Originally, it was run as a school and access to it was quite limited.  Only those involved in taking a course of study were allowed entry.  At some point they were taken to court to allow the public entrance.  You can imagine how the neighbors felt about the traffic.  They were not very happy with the school buses and many museum visitors, especially with their tiny parking lot.  So visitation is limited to see this amazing collection of art.  You need to call and make a reservation for a specific date and time.  (And also pay $15 for parking in addition to the entrance fee.)

Dr. Barnes died in 1951.  He had set up a trust that stipulated that his collection was never to be moved or any part of it sold or  any of the paintings to tour.  So, it was big news in the Philadelphia area recently, when a group of influential people wanted to move the Barnes out of the suburbs and into the city.  Wider access was a very compelling reason.  But what about the wishes of Dr. Barnes.  This was the story behind the movie, "The Art of the Steal".  It is based on interviews of many of the players.  I found it fascinating.  As in most cases, the story is based on politics, money and power.

To relieve my winter doldrums, I went to visit the museum today before the entire collection is moved to the city in 2012.  As typical for me, either I forget to bring my camera or it's out of battery charge.  Today, no juice in the battery, not that you're allowed to bring a camera or anything else into the Barnes - and I mean ANYTHING else.  No camera, no purse, no jacket, not even a sketchpad.  They have lockers for a quarter to stow your stuff.  I would have loved to share the buildings along Latchs Lane, where The Barnes is located - Main Line Philadelphia Mansions.  You get the picture.

The paintings are just breathtaking.  Dr. Barnes' philosophy involved a form of grouping of the artwork, called ensembles.  This grouping was not by artist or date.  Many times it involved color,  It was a philosophy that he had developed.  In addition to the paintings, he also included beautiful hand forged ironwork, PA Dutch chests and various pieces of furniture.  All of it is displayed using natural colored burlap walls.  The upstairs is closed while they prepare the paintings for the move. 

I have very conflicted feelings about the move.  You have to see this movie.  I rented it through Netflix.  This man amassed these paintings, built a museum to house them and displayed them based on his philosophy.  His wishes were not followed.  They ignored his trust.  But finances became an issue and wider access and an influx of philanthropy became a solution.  What would Dr. Barnes think?

1 comment:

  1. CL: just looking at the ironwork above the right door....inspiration for you?


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