- Visitors at the Barnes gaze up at “The Dance” by Henri Matisse, commissioned by Albert Barnes and completed in 1933. Measuring 34 feet wide, the triptych mural on canvas is now ensconced in three lunettes in the new Barnes. CREDIT: Rick Echelmeyer/©2012 Barnes Foundation
Where will you be in October? November? Chances are good that if you’re traveling this fall, that location will be near the site of a major renovation, reinstallation or completely new museum or art space.
Museums today are going bigger, brighter and more interactive than ever, the better to engage the public. The Barnes Foundation, once tucked away in a residential community in the Philadelphia suburbs, has just opened a jaw-droppingly contemporary new home on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in the heart of the city. The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, once just a philanthropist’s idea and an architect’s rendering, is now a real museum, open to all, that’s transformed its rural Arkansas surroundings. And studio glass pioneer Dale Chihuly has opened a permanent new garden and exhibition space in the shadow of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle for visitors to walk around in.
Perhaps the most highly anticipated opening of the year has been the reinstallation of the Albert C. Barnes Collection. The Barnes Foundation’s new home, designed in limestone and bronze by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, opened to great fanfare (and exceptionally enthusiastic reviews) in May.
For the first time in nearly 100 years, anyone who wants to travel to Philadelphia’s Museum Mile can see the more than 2,000 objects, from masterworks by Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, Degas and Van Gogh, to wide-ranging assortments of Native American pottery and rugs, African sculptures and American decorative metalwork, amassed during the first half of the 20th century by the irascible physician, chemist and self-made millionaire. In keeping with Dr. Barnes’s explicit wishes, this magnificent collection was previously housed in the foundation’s original headquarters in suburban Merion, Pa.
Dr. Barnes believed that art should be an amalgamation of fine, decorative and functional works, and that arrangement has been preserved in the new location. The new galleries show the art in exactly the same configurations as in the old ones, complete with the same moldings and mustard-colored walls. However, many elements—the lighting, the organization of the rooms, access to the building—have been expanded and improved. In addition to the galleries, the new Barnes includes a cafe, a gift shop, classrooms and a 150-seat auditorium. The venue’s wood floors deserve special mention: parts of them once served as support beams under New York’s Coney Island Boardwalk, recycled for use in their present setting.
During his lifetime, Dr. Barnes famously loathed Philadelphia because he was convinced his art was not properly appreciated there. Fortunately for art lovers everywhere, the city has finally made amends, and the doctor’s spirit is very much alive in the new space.
For more of “2012 Fall Arts Preview,” pick up a copy of the Fall issue of AmericanStyle.