Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Barnes Foundation

The Barnes Foundation may have moved from its lovely property in Lower Merion Township near Philadelphia, but it has not gotten any easier to deal with than when Albert Barnes himself ran the show with his odd art historical ideas.  

At that time the Barnes was at its original site and one could enjoy the eccentricity of a very wealthy collector, Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951).  See my Missive from the last time I was there.  But to move it and do the same thing to a new building in Philadelphia just frustrated me.  I understand that the judge in the case acted in his King Solomon capacity allowing the move but insisting that every work of art remain in the same position as it was in Barnes' last instillation.  Since the latter moved his pictures around regularly I am not sure what the judge thinks he achieved.  Barnes did not have enough room to install all his paintings so some will remain in storage?!  Too bad the Judge did not leave well enough alone and keep the Barnes in the house that the collector and his wife had built for it.

This time the pictures became a cacophony of images for me.  Barnes had a very interesting eye and for some artists such as Cezanne and Matisse it could not be better.  This is also true for Picasso and Gauguin.  Unfortunately, it does not hold true for Renoir and while there are a few decent ones there are over 150 small truly dreadful potboilers which are heavily interspersed with some gems. 

One of the great Gauguins was placed between two Prendergasts making the latter seem like a mediocre artist, which I don't think he is.  The installation that bothered me the most was in gallery 1 where the great Seurat, “Les Poseurs” (The Models) was placed above the great Cezanne, The Card Players, so one could appreciate neither!

Barnes would not allow labels so they get around that with an audio guide as well as printed guides in each gallery.  Also, since Barnes wanted no interference from art historians whom he discouraged from coming to the Barnes, the printed guide mentions tentative re-attributions after Barnes's original designations.

What would have been wrong with limiting the number of people allowed in any one day into the old Barnes?  The people of Lower Merion enjoyed complaining about the tour busses but then protested when the Barnes was moved. 

The truth of the matter is that it was a battle between two titans.  Walter Annenberg (1908-2002)  and Albert Barnes, and since Annenberg lived longer, he won!  If you don't believe me, a huge atrium at the new Barnes, suitable for large parties, which brings in revenue, bears the Annenberg name who, of course, contributed a great deal of money to the entire effort!

I have the temerity to suggest that I could, on my own, turn the new Barnes into a first class museum without having to acquire a single work of art and by just changing the installation.  How wonderful it would be to show all the great masterpieces, and there are many, on the first floor and then use as much space as needed for all the Renoirs on the second floor with one important one in each gallery so that you could see the changes during various periods of the artist’s life.  I would put sculpture, possibly with the silver and pewter decorative arts, in their own galleries as well, rather than sky them high on the walls where they look like mere adornments or relegated assortments to mixed vitrines.

Pablo Picasso, “Child Seated in an Armchair"

Years, in this case half a century, after someone has died the world has  changed, following their wishes to the letter can very well do a disservice to their legacy.

1 comment:

  1. Great idea...have to wait until the original parties are all dead!