Barnes Foundation

There was a chap called Alfred Barnes who bought a lot of paintings and other objects of art. He apparently had an odd theory about how to arrange the art (mostly impressionists, mainly Renoir with his hazy blends of color and chubby nudes, I’ll take Pissarro and Sisley over Renoir and Monet any day) and left an order in his will not to disturb it. Eventually Philadelphia got a federal judge to let them grab his collection, they kicked the boy scouts out of their ancient headquarters downtown (being in disfavor for not being too keen on sexual perverts) and set up the collection there. It is a large modern place, with grounds not unpleasant and lots of space. They have a library, an auditorium, rooms for meetings and lounging around, and of course, in a corner, the collection.

You walk through the large building wondering where the thing begins, and when you reach it you are lectured rather sternly by a guard. The guards throughout are rather more than less obtrusive, reminding persons of the rules. You have these crowded galleries with mostly unlabeled paintings, lines on the floor that limit your proximity to the objects, and no way to stay before anything long without being rude. Most people go through listening on headphones jacked into their electronics, and they mill around those disconcertingly packed places ignoring each other.

There are printed guides in the galleries you can look into if the frame isn’t labeled or you can’t recognize the painting. One good thing was that I was pleased at how many I could recognize—Cezane, El Greco, Matisse, and various others. I’ve been going to art galleries and pondering them and it appears to have had a cumulative payoff.

It is too bad they have to have the collection the way they do, but I think they have to honor Barnes’ eccentric notions of displaying art. They have enough room in there to range the pieces out at standard and humane intervals to allow for real museum musing and edification, but that is alas not what you get. I thought it was a crowded day, but the guard told me it was one of the lighter ones. Crowded galleries where people mill around ignoring each other, or worse, are jacked into technology is just not my idea.

I propose at least one long gallery with suitably spaced objects from the collection into which persons can trickle, never in large groups, so that things may be appreciated. Just keep the rest of it, but rotate bits of the collection trough the long gallery.

It is otherwise a pleasant place, well-kept and well-appointed, and since it is free to students, very worth the price. I’ll be stopping in to buzz through and make friends with some of the works as time allows.


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