Au revoir Barnes Foundation, à la prochaine

Where did the building end and the art begin? In my mind, they’re one. But only until 3 july 2011.

That’s when the fantastic French, Modern and African art collection that The Barnes Foundation founder, Albert J. Barnes, assembled in the early to mid 20th century in Merion, PA will close its doors.

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Art created by Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne, de Chirico, Renoir, Prendergast and on and on that Barnes lovingly collected will most likely be stripped from the very structure that was custom-built to display it.

Barnes – financier, doctor, collector, educator – commissioned noted French architect Paul Philippe Cret to design his house and galleries to co-exist as educational and cultural institutions. They were completed in 1925. By 1929, Barnes devoted himself fully to The Foundation where he selected and arranged gallery works as “wall ensembles.”

Barnes believed that the visual elements and aesthetic traditions evident in all art forms, and all across periods and cultures, could be best seen this way. And he was right.

I remember wandering through the rooms, experiencing the rhythms the way Barnes might have seen them. It was nothing like a traditional museum experience. It felt more like an organic process that built to a different crescendo each time and manner that I visited the Foundation.

It’s great that Dr Barnes’s collection and his mission to educate will live on. It would be heartbreaking if those magnificent works would never be seen together again.

But the Barnes will (most likely) close its Merion galleries on Sunday, July 3, 2011. Until its reopening in 2012, the eMuseum database is available. However, if you were never fortunate enough to have seen Albert Barnes’s collection as he intended, in situ – sadly – you’ve missed a truly unique experience.

Listen to Barnes Gallery Draws Art Lovers For One Last Look from NPR.org. Take an interactive tour of the Barnes.

Don’t forget to check out the excellent documentary, The Art of the Steal, about the “heist” at the Barnes.

Photo: Jessica Griffin/AP

2 Responses to “Au revoir Barnes Foundation, à la prochaine”

  1. Rose Says:

    Hello. My Aunt Edith and I got to see the collection a few years ago. It was wonderful.

  2. lg Says:

    Sadly, the Barnes did close for good on 3 July 2011. I spent many college afternoons there, enjoying both the art and the intimacy of the surroundings. My last visit was several years ago with family members. The Barnes was a most remarkable setting as you so ably and elegantly described. Unfortunately, the bottom line is always money — in this case, the problems from previous stewardship and the vision to make even more money in a more traditional museum setting and city location. On the plus side, the magnificent paintings will live on and the educational mission of Dr. Barnes will be continued. However, a true loss.

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