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Attention Barnes Purists: Derek Gillman Will “Go Beyond” Dr. Barnes’ Vision

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Derek Gillman, president and executive director of the Barnes Foundation, speaking yesterday in San Francisco

In the second time that he has spoken at an annual lawyers’ conference on Legal Issues in Museum Administration organized by the American Law Institute of the American Bar Association, lawyer Derek Gillman, president and executive director of the Barnes Foundation, yesterday briefly honed in on the Barnes during a rambling keynote address on “Museum as a Global Citizen”—a topic assigned to him that he admitted he had found “utterly resistible” because “people are citizens, not institutions.” (I attended parts of ALI-ABA’s San Francisco conference by webcast. The photo, above, is a screenshot.)

Aside from its relocation from Merion to Philadelphia and the expansion and changes to its physical facility, there’s another way in which the new Barnes will not be Dr. Barnes’ Barnes, as revealed during the question-and-answer portion of Gillman’s talk.

Here’s what he said:

Barnes had a very specific approach, which he wanted to see replicated. Even though the way in which his approach was delivered in his day was, I think, very open, the nature of enshrining that and having it passed down to other generations meant it became perhaps less open in the teaching.

In general, it was a formal approach, which was characteristic of the Barnes method. That is a constraint, because I think what one probably ought to do now is not to denigrate in any way the form—it’s a wonderful way of approaching art—but to also add to it and go beyond it. If one stuck strictly to the spirit of it, one might not [go beyond it]. But I’m afraid we have.

For us, going forward with the Barnes course, we will stick to the traditional Barnes curriculum. But we’ll add on other courses. One can never know what Barnes would have wanted. But then you add on another 60-70 years and if you’ve got a really good mind and an inquiring mind, which he did, you can’t say where he would have been in the early 21st century.

One place where he almost certainly wouldn’t have been is Philadelphia—the city to which his collection is now being moved, but whose movers and shakers he notoriously scorned and shunned.

an ArtsJournal blog