Friday, January 25, 2013

Revisitng the Re-Barnes


Yesterday, I finally visited the Barnes Foundation in its new home on the Parkway, and I am here to report that it's a very strange experience indeed to see rooms you've visited many times before whisked away and recreated in an entirely different building.

The new rooms have exactly the same proportions as the old ones, and the art is hung in them in exactly the same positions as the old ones.  In most ways this is good.  Albert C. Barnes, the man who assembled this astonishing collection at a time when the art establishment of Philadelphia wouldn't touch a Cezanne with a ten-foot pole, had an extremely good eye and strong theories about art.  He created the original foundation as a teaching museum, and the paintings are placed so that various aspects of them can be compared and contrasted. 

In two ways, this is not so good.  First, because the rooms are relatively small, only a limited number of tickets are sold in any given time period, and since they almost always sell out, the rooms are always crowded.  Also, because the rest of the walls were full, a few of the paintings are hung high over the doorways, where they're almost impossible to see.  One Rousseau in particular makes me want to slap a ladder against the doorway and clamber up to see exactly what it's a painting of.

This came about because some years back the Barnes Foundation went bankrupt (this is a long story, involving race, rich people, parking, and above all, lawsuits -- lots and lots of lawsuits) and the only way that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would agree to fork over tens of millions of dollars to keep it afloat was in exchange for moving the collection to a new museum in Philadelphia.  

Still, it's a wonderful collection, wherever one sees it. The Modigliani Redheaded Girl in an Evening Dress is as refreshing as a cold lemonade on a hot day.  The Van Gogh of cottages under a pink sky is just plain amazing.  The Courbet of a young woman peeling off her stockings preparatory to sex is quite simply pornographic -- and I mean that approvingly.  The Miros are a joy to see.  Seeing them again was like visiting old friends.

The exterior of the building is a little annoying when you're wandering about it on a cold winter day, looking for the entrance with very clues to help you find it.  But the interior is comfortable and pleasantly workable.  Lots of space has been added for people to rest in after all that staring at the art.

Because you have to order the tickets beforehand, the museum-goers are the most reverent batch you've ever seen in your life.  I've been in cathedrals that drew less solemn crowds.

Above:  I honestly couldn't tell you if this is the room from the old Barnes or the new one.  They're virtually identical.


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