This weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the renowned and controversial Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. It was a spur of the moment decision. I had been at a lacrosse tournament with my oldest son, and we had some time to kill before a late flight out on Sunday.
After perusing the Independence Hall and taking the ubiquitous photo atop the “Rocky Steps” I convinced my 14 year old to join me in the museum by assuring him that an Omastar or Dragonair might be lurking there (for those of you under 25, let me clarify: These are particularly rare Pokemon creatures—extremely sought after by the millennial crowd)
But I digress….
So teenager lurking beside me, we walked into a serene, modernist building nestled among the historic monuments of downtown Philadelphia. The museum housed the most intriguing and incredibly diverse collection of post modern artworks that I have ever seen in one place.
Not only were there works from the likes of Matisse, Renoir, Picasso, Surat, Soutine, Cezanne, and van Gogh, and many others, they were displayed in a unique way so that the viewer would be able to compare techniques and styles from different periods, countries of origin, and styles. It was truly fascinating to see how his mind pulled these seemingly disparate characteristics together into one very specific and articulated arrangement.
The Barnes Foundation was founded in 1922 by Albert C Barnes, a chemist who developed a love for collecting and understanding art. He amassed a fortune by co-developing an early anti-gonorrhea drug called Argyrol and subsequently selling his company just before antibiotics were brought into regular use. Barnes remained a passionate collector and patron of the arts until his death in 1951.
In the 1990s the foundation found themselves in serious financial peril which lead a handful if its leaders to make some controversial decisions, essentially disregarding Barnes wishes that were explicitly outlined in his will, including putting the artworks on tour, selling off some of the pieces, and proposing to move the collection from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the city. The long drawn out legal battle inspired the 2009 documentary film “The Art of the Steal” (well worth your time if you are interested.)
Eventually the lawsuits settled and the new museum opened in 2012 to great acclaim. It is an incredibly beautiful space that does justice to the invaluable art housed there. Today the museum further carries out the Barnes mission by inviting a contemporary artist to exhibit their work in a series of shows that change throughout the year.
The current exhibition (on view June 24-August 22) is called Sun Splashed by Jamacian born artist Nari Ward. (see video below) It is provocative, not only the display of the interactive artworks, but in the artists ability to express his own political and social beliefs. Well worth the visit if you are in the area—even if you don’t play PoGo….
Notable Works at The Barnes Foundation