I’ll be en route back home today from my sojourn at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. It was, for me, a sad journey from the moment that I arrived at the new home for Albert Barnes‘ superlative collection of Impressionist, post-Impressionist and early modern art (among many more objects from world cultures).
As you’ll see in the video, below, access to an institution that purports to provide new accessibility to the masses (a dubious claim, given its $18 admission fee) is a convoluted trek past forbidding, stark walls that block views to and from the street, ending at a dismayingly monumental and dark front entrance alcove that dwarfs all who approach it. This design by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects is a far cry from the human scale and intimacy of the the Barnes’ original Paul Cret-designed home, nestled in a bucolic arboretum in Merion, PA.
People like me who cherish memories of the old place and who cringe when those who relocated the collection refer to the greatly expanded new art-and-events palace as a “jewel box” (in the words of Aileen Roberts, trustee and building committee chair, at yesterday’s press preview) are now vulnerable to being labeled as “purists” and “diehards.” So let’s move on.
Take a deep breath with me as we gamely approach the new Barnes for the 21st Century: