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The New Philly Barnes: Derek Gillman Reveals the Details

While I was in Philadelphia recently, I made the side trip to the Barnes Foundation in Merion to spend an enlightening hour with its recently appointed executive director and president, Derek Gillman. Fresh from a board meeting that same day, he filled me in on some of the architectural and program ideas for the new Barnes, soon to begin construction in Philadelphia.
A program plan and site plan, overseen by Polshek Partnership, have recently been completed and the search is on for an architect for the new facility. (Polshek has asked to be considered for the job.)
While Gillman wouldn’t share a copy of the written plans with me, he did provide a detailed look at what may lie ahead:
Architecture: The Barnes hopes to name its architect by midsummer. “It’s got to be somebody really good, not someone who is cutting his teeth on such a project for the first time.” He added that while the Barnes board is “not looking to replicate Paul Cret‘s building” it does “want a distinguished building that captures the gravitas of the project.” The hoped-for completion date is 2009, but Gillman acknowledges that this would be tight.
While the new facility, as mandated by the courts, will reproduce the size and layout of the rooms in Merion, choices will be made as to building materials, lighting (possibly including more natural light) and modernization of the cases in which certain works are displayed. The existing Barnes facility will house the foundation’s archives, which will be made newly accessible to scholars.
The new building, unlike the old, will include spaces for loan exhibitions. Gillman also hopes to include an as yet undefined space to facilitate “civil engagement” and “debate, whether about art or politics, in the Deweyan spirit.” (John Dewey was a close associate of founder/collector Albert Barnes and greatly influenced his thinking.) The existing gallery building is about 16,000 square feet. The new facility will be about 120,000 square feet.
Collections: “We will not sell or acquire anything,” Gillman unequivocally stated. As legally mandated, the permanent collection galleries will be installed exactly as they were left by Albert Barnes. Even the collection’s monumental Matisse mural, “La Danse,” will be removed from the site for which it was created and reinstalled in the new galleries. Before the move, all works will undergo a conservation assessment and will be cleaned and restored, as needed.
Exhibitions: Special exhibitions will be regularly mounted, many of which will relate to objects in the permanent collection. (But the permanent-collection objects will stay in their assigned places.) Chinese ceramics, Gillman’s specialty when he worked at the British Museum, might be the subject of one loan show and contemporary art will also be explored: “Robert Ryman was passionate about Matisse,” Gillman noted.
Education: The new facility will continue the traditional Barnes curriculum, but will also add new educational programs, possibly even becoming an independent degree-granting institution.
Attendance: Attendance is projected at 250,000 a year, compared to the strictly controlled yearly attendance of 63,000 in the existing facility. Admission to the permanent collection galleries will likely be by timed ticket, to avoid overcrowding.
Fundraising: Some $150 million has been raised: $100 million for the building and the move; $50 million for endowment. Last May, the Barnes announced plans to raise an additional $50 million for endowment, but none of that has yet been obtained.
“That will be my job,” Gillman noted.

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