A two hour journey from New York to Philadelphia, arriving just five minutes before opening hours and facing a sold out admission desk (tip: book online prior arrival!). These are no signs of good fortune. But once you enter Dr. Barnes’ collection, your senses are intrigued. Voilà, Art History unravels in all its glory.
Housing 3,000 works, let’s not get overwhelm by the numbers: 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 16 Modiglianis, 7 Van Goghs and some Soutines (50 of those Barnes bought and skyrocketed Soutine’s career overnight!), Gauguins, Miros, Rousseaus, Seurats, El Grecos and Tintorettos. Oh, and I forgot the Courbets. These great masters are hanging next to each other and their works mingle perfectly together. Even though separated by centuries and different eras, the “ensembles” as Dr. Barnes called them, have this unique opportunity to share their light, color-palette, or composition and enhance each other, creating a dialog between them and encouraging the contemporary viewers to narrate their own stories. Art becomes accessible again.
Perhaps you will find the rooms’ lighting a bit gloomy, but bare in mind, these masterworks are thick chapters of our Art History and they have to stay preserved for longer than one’s lifetime.
The Barnes Foundation is famous not only for its key art collection (worth 30 billion!) but also due to its notorious art collector; Albert Barnes. You see, Dr. Barnes limited public access to the collection and required people to make appointments by letter, most of the time rejecting them and having them “signed” by his dog, Fidèle-de-Port-Manech (quite the prankster). He wasn’t interested in a mass experience, but in quality experience (hence, the now “no selfies” and #babesatthemuseum, a.k.a. no photography indoors allowed).
In his will, Barnes stated that his collection – the “ensembles”, could never be loaned, or sold; it was to stay on the walls of the foundation in exactly the same place they were at the time of his death (a challenging task, bearing in mind when you marry art with money, the world gets very greedy). Long story short, the foundation couldn’t raise funds, hit a financial crisis resulting in a lengthy legal battle (that was later adapted into a successful documentary film) and as of 2012 the Foundation has been relocated and its finance reshaped.
Parallel to the Collection, a temporary exhibition focuses on “Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change”, which runs until May 9, 2016 . If you check it out, bare in mind that you will fall in love with Picasso’s Woman in White, 1922 (Nahmad Collection) and don’t bother googling it, the image is nowhere to be found online.
From New York with Love,