This week The Barnes Foundation opens the doors to its singular collection in a new purpose-built facility on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia. The inauguration caps a decades-long battle over "donor intent" and the indenture of trust of Dr. Albert C. Barnes. The wholesale relocation of the collection from Dr. Barnes's original campus in Merion to downtown Philly has been the subject of several books--most notably Art Held Hostage by John Anderson--and a popular documentary called The Art of the Steal.
No museum opening has therefore been more anticipated and (by many) loathed than the new Barnes. Here's ArtFagCity's article on "Why People are Upset" (thanks for the quotes, Whitney!). On Wednesday, the Barnes Foundation finally revealed its new building to the press.
Here is the original Barnes Foundation building designed by Paul Philippe Cret
And here is the new Barnes designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects (all photographs by James Panero)
By basing an argument on "access" and constructing a much larger building than the original Cret design--complete with auditorium, restaurants, lounges, and LEED environmental certification--the new Barnes follows many of the trends I warned against in my article "What's a Museum?"
At the same time, my analysis of The Barnes Foundation for Philanthropy Magazine revealed that Dr. Barnes's rigid indenture was inherently brittle and bound to break in the decades after his death. So if his original intent could not be maintained, what was the best outcome for his collection?
The Friends of the Barnes led the legal campaign to prevent the move.
The stars of "The Art of the Steal" protest outside the Barnes entrance.
Rocky once broke an indenture of trust in a 10th round knockout. RIP donor intent!
I don't think we're in Merion anymore, Fidèle-de-Port-Manech: Here is the entrance to the new Barnes.
At the preview I joined Michael J. Lewis, whom I've assigned to write about the Barnes for the June issue of The New Criterion. Derek Gillman, executive director and president of The Barnes, kicked off the proceedings. Also up: Stephen Harmelin, treasurer of The Barnes, who said the move was a "lonely decision"; and Aileen Roberts of building committee, who calls Dr. Barnes her "phantom client." Also spotted at the opening was Harvey Shipley Miller, the long-lost trustee of the Judith Rothschild Foundation. Meanwhile Bernard C. Watson, Barnes chairman, missed the press opening because he was stuck on a flight back from Florida.
Like an enormous period room--a museum of a foundation--the dimensions of the Cret building and the hanging of the collection that existed there when Barnes died in 1951 has been transferred to the Philadelphia facility.
But not everything is the same. The galleries now benefit from much better natural and artificial lighting. Here architect Tod Williams explains the new windows to Karen Wilkin.
The architects pulled the new light-well out over the outdoor patio.
The building's finish is well articulated, but families of birds have already taken up residence in the gaps in the stonework. Shouldn't they have their own viral Twitter account by now? Representatives for the Barnes tell me they have ordered 70 rubber snakes to hide in the cracks to discourage nesting.
Wait, didn't Frank Stella invent shaped canvases? Here is Matisse's "The Dance" reinstalled in the new Barnes. (Could this image on the Barnes website be any smaller?)
One change has been to move Matisse's "Le Bonheur de vivre" from the stairwell to a dedicated alcove on the second floor.
Here's kinda where "Bonheur de vivre" would have been at the original Barnes
Up close and better illumated, it's now possible to see the painting's color and details.
An advertisement in Penn Station reminds New Yorkers about the Barnes's proximity to Wazoo.
So is this The Triumph of the Broken Will?
The original Barnes was modernism's Chartres, incapable of duplication. The Merion campus had a reverential church-like aura that distinguished it from any other institution. But the new Barnes now employs a sensitive design and 80 years of updated lighting technology to illuminate a collection that, while undoubtedly disturbed, remains intact.
Only time will tell how we will come to regard the new Barnes--as an emblem of broken promises or another part of a rich cultural landscape. For now, starting on May 19, both facets are on display in downtown Philadelphia.