Wednesday, April 16, 2008
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The Barnes Foundation
300 N. Latch's Lane
Merion, PA 19066-1729
You should know
Chris and I did our undergrad right by the Barnes, and various professors had raved about it, but we had never gone. The city is trying to move the collection, and I wanted to visit before this happens. We didn't think we'd get tickets ($10) -- it was a bit more last minute than the website recommends (30-60 days in advance is recommended). Still, Chris made the call and we got the tickets. Also, Chris and I both really like impressionism and many of its offshoots, like pointillism, early cubism, and certain examples of abstract expressionism.
The tickets are timed -- we had an appointment for 11:00 AM. I thought this would be perfect, as guided tours of the grounds are scheduled for 11:15. Unfortunately, these tours don't start until late April, and I can see why. We roamed the grounds a bit ourselves, and while the gardens were well-manicured and the trees were in full bloom, not much else was. It was somewhat underwhelming, though I can tell it will be amazing this summer.
So instead we began wandering through the collection. Unlike a typical art museum, the collection is not organized by artist or movement, and there are no plaques on the wall to give you the relevant details. We went through a few rooms utterly lost, then tracked back when we discovered the laminated room maps that describe the works on each wall. It still only gave us titles and artists, but it helped.
We made it through about two-thirds of the museum this way before our 1:00 PM tour of the collection. It was intriguing; what appears at first glance to be a pretty haphazard setup it actually very deliberate. Dr. Albert C. Barnes was very interested in art education, going as far as to hold art appreciation lessons for his employees, paid, on company time. He spent millions on his collection, and in retrospect got some phenomenal bargains to boot. He didn't even necessarily like everything in his collection, but he wasn't selecting it for aesthetic purposes, but rather for education purposes, so if it had a place in the lesson, he acquired it. Even if you don't understand exactly what Barnes was going for in a particular room, there is a lot of really impressive symmetry: a matched set of two paintings may flank a center work, or you may see an early and late work by the same artist across the room from each other.
Our docent was very knowledgeable, and while I don't think I retained as much as I might have liked, we still learned quite a lot (for instance, I didn't know that El Greco is sort of the patron saint of modern art).
After the tour, though, we were pretty tired. We tried to revisit the rooms we hadn't made it to on our first walk-through, but we were just beat. After a quick stroll around the grounds, we headed out.
Go while you can.
I'm not saying the new location won't be amazing. I'm not even saying the new location will actually happen. But definitely go soon, just to be on the safe side.
Also, try to go in late spring. And if you do, take some pictures of the gardens for me?
A bit of advice
Bring a sweater. No, really. It says to on the website, but I forgot -- and I was freezing the entire time I was there.
The rest of the Internet
Some of these sites include pictures from the collection, which may include nudes.
The Friends of the Barnes Foundation are working to prevent the relocation.
Check out the collection of New York Times articles on the Barnes.
Kate Strathmann at Off Center reflects on the collection and the relocation.
Miscellany Inc. has a three part series about the Barnes.
NPR tours the Barnes and discusses the move.
KT at The Finer Things Club discusses the setup of the displays.