Barnes Museum pushes forward move downtown

Designs approved for second home in Philadelphia

NEW YORK. The Barnes Foundation broke ground in November on its new museum on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway, designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and scheduled to open in 2012. This week, it received final approval on its new building plans from the Philadelphia Art Commission. Derek Gillman, the Barnes’s president, told The Art Newspaper that the foundation was pushing forward the design and construction schedule to take advantage of current low construction bids. “This is actually a great time to be building,” he said.

A Pennsylvania county judge ruled in 2004 that the Barnes could override the will of its founder, Albert C. Barnes, by moving to Philadelphia from suburban Merion. The total cost of the project is $200m; Gillman said the foundation has raised $150m so far. The architects were charged with precisely replicating the gallery spaces of the Barnes’s current home, built by Paul Philippe Cret in 1925, while adding amenities such as temporary exhibition space, an auditorium, a bookstore and a café, all of which will be located in a separate building, connected to the galleries through a glazed court.

Barnes’s original installation—a series of largely symmetrical rooms featuring a combination of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, non-Western art, Pennsylvania Dutch furniture and American and European ironwork—will be reproduced exactly in the new space. “It’s a kind of wild ride, both in terms of schedule but also intellectually,” Billie Tsien told us. “It’s sort of a puzzle in terms of: ‘How does one replicate anything without it being not as good?’”

The most significant difference in the new building is that all of the galleries will have controlled natural light. (In Merion, the window shades are always pulled down.) The second-floor galleries will be lit by clerestory skylights, and the first-floor galleries will also have windows. “Barnes’s intention, as we read it with Cret in Merion, was to build a state-of-the-art gallery,” Gillman said. “In that spirit we’re building a gallery of the early 21st century.”

In terms of art, the only change concerns Matisse’s large-scale painting The Joy of Life, 1905-06, which will be moved off the staircase—where Gillman said it was awkward for visitors to get a good view—to a balcony space. The Barnes is closing half of its top-floor galleries this month to begin the process of conserving paintings before the move. It will close completely on 1 July, 2011.

Gillman said that the original museum and its grounds will remain in use, however. The current horticultural programmes will be expanded and the arboretum, which is currently only open to people with tickets to the museum, will be made more accessible to the public. The foundation’s archive, which includes all of Barnes’s correspondence, will be moved into the main building and made available to scholars. “We’re talking internally about the idea of having a small research centre,” Gillman added, which would “relate in some way to principal areas of collection, art and horticulture”.

The museum itself will be used for object conservation. (A painting conservation studio will also be housed in the new museum in Philadelphia.) Gillman said he hopes the Merion building will host at least occasional exhibitions. The foundation also manages Ker-Feal, an 18th-century farmhouse in Chester County that Barnes purchased in 1940 and filled with Pennsylvania Dutch furniture and American redware pottery. Raising money to open the house to the public is a long-term goal of the foundation, Gillman said, but not an immediate priority.

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1 Mar 11
16:3 CET


I don't understand Bob's comment. He shows very litle knowledge of Barnes Will. Lincoln U was not left the Barnes. The only thing that was left to Lincoln was the right to nominate barnes Board members, nothing else. Lincoln did not even know it had this right until several years after Barnes death. The people who royally screwed the Barnes was Merion who threw roadblocks to allowing the public to see the collection. As the Art of the Steal shows Merion did nothing until ag=fter everything was settled.

27 Feb 11
20:22 CET


I just watched "The Art of the Steal" on Showtime and decided to do some research of my own. Thank you Nick for all of the information you provided. A sad state indeed!

18 Feb 11
21:51 CET


This is a sad commentary on Lincoln University who sold out early on. They threw away a golden goose for some fried chicken (and I am black). Then the vultures of Annanberg, and Pew etc. came and while claiming to save the poor ravaged collection, were chomping at the bit and proudly claiming the billion $ collection as a coup. If you've ever been to the location it's marvelous. The residents of Merion didn't want Barnes there when he was alive, and in his vindictive spiteful way, he left this most valuable collection to people he knew they'd despise. An all black college. Even in 2004, the residents of what is called an upscale neighborhood did not want it there. However it's not an upscale neighborhood. Are there some large homes? A few, and an apartment complex with sheets in the window around the corner. A public library and 7/11 down the street. If Merrion were so exclusive, believe me you'd need a road map to find the private road which got you into town & past the gate.Sad

19 Jul 10
18:5 CET


It's a shame that the polticians and A judge could steal this collection. Has any one visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art? Its run like HUD. Very unpleasent. What makes the powers that be think they could do better. The only thing missing is a day care center.Im sure that fast Eddy will see to that. Shame.

22 Mar 10
5:53 CET


for a good understanding of this, watch "The Art of the Steal", a current documentary about the artgrab of the Barnes Foundation by Phillie's wealthy elite. In select theaters now. It will make you cry.

4 Feb 10
10:15 CET


What a terrible loss for Merion communities. The moving of art into "new spaces" is always a loss of historic context. There could be no reason other than money for moving the art. Thank you Nick for your informed revisions.

11 Jan 10
21:9 CET


I re-read Kate Taylor's article and can't leave this alone: "Matisse’s large-scale painting The Joy of Life, 1905-06, which will be moved off the staircase—where Gillman said it was awkward for visitors to get a good view—to a balcony space." The present location is a perfect space in which to study the painting. There is an eye-level view at the stairtop balcony and the painting unfolds before the viewer as one ascends the staircase. This is no accident, the earlier painting was commissioned for its original owner's staircase. In addition, one can view both the early Matisse and his later work that references it (the tri-panel "la Danse") from the same spot. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is "awkward for the visitor to get a good view," Happily, Gillman is not in line for Pope in this lifetime. Moving the Matisse is not the only change affecting the artwork. Many such juxtapositions will be destroyed because the relationships between rooms will be altered.

11 Jan 10
18:23 CET


A correction to my post: the sentence should have read: There is no need for a "21st century solution . . ." One further speculation, the Barnes management, paranoid as ever about controlling information, are keeping light levels low in the galleries to prevent visitors from capturing on film what will soon be available to them only in grey matter.

9 Jan 10
18:5 CET


Re: the windows at the Merion building: Protection from ultraviolet light was installed as part of the 1990s renovations. There is no legitimate reason for the "controlled natural lighting" in Merion being thwarted by the current administrators' keeping the shades lowered. The Merion galleries are perfectly adapted for natural light with such nuances as side walls canted slightly to catch more light. There is need for a "21st century" solution, the hubris of the parkway building designers aside. It seems that the Barnes management, in league with local politicians, are doing as much as possible to undersell the Merion gallery, as though this will somehow make up for their baldfaced sell-out of the collection to prop up the dingy City of Philadelphia and rust-belt economy of the state. Along with robbing visitors of the splendid viewing when shades are raised, they now close 5 rooms. Little by little it seems the plan is to drop the whole thing down the memory hole.

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