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Last Chance to See the Barnes Intact: Some Galleries Are Closing UPDATED

Without much warning, the Barnes Foundation e-mailed on Tuesday a “Dear Friends” newsletter announcing that in January it will close five galleries on its second floor:

Rooms 14 through 18 will become a large temporary conservation suite in preparation for the move [from Merion to a new facility in Philadelphia], and will therefore close to the public.

Here are some works you will miss (including the cover girl for the Barnes’ paintings catalogue), if you don’t get there by Jan. 3:

BarnMat.jpgBarnRen.jpgLeft: Matisse, “Red Madras Headdress”  Right: Renoir, “Mussel Fishers at Bernaval


BarnRous.jpgLeft: Picasso, “The Ascetic”;  Right: Rousseau, “Scouts Attacked by a Tiger

Modigliani, “Jeanne Hébuterne”

Andrew Stewart, spokesperson for the Barnes, told me yesterday that the foundation hopes to make these and the other off-view works “accessible” through an on-site computer terminal—not much consolation. To see the real deals, you’ll have to wait until new Philly Barnes, which broke ground last month, opens (if all goes according to plan) in 2012.

In October, the Philadelphia Art Commission approved Tod Williams‘ and Billie Tsien‘s overall design concept for the facility on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, but the real fun comes in January or February, when the commission expects to vote on far more detailed plans.

Meanwhile, it’s tree-chopping time: A letter went out recently from the Barnes to institutions along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, warning them that trees would be felled this week, “to allow for the excavation and placement of the building….As
we expect this to cause some alarm, we wanted you to be informed in

Here’s what the site’s frontage on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway looked like in mid-October, when I was in town for the Philadelphia Museum’s Gorky show—no foot traffic, lots of London Plane trees:


There were four rows of those large trees buffering the site from the parkway; the row furthest from the road (closest to the planned new facility) is currently coming down—18 trees in all, in addition to the five that were toppled when the juvenile detention facility previously occupying the site was demolished.

Stewart told me:

There are a couple more London Plane trees being removed that are not part of that grove. There are also a couple of diseased trees that will be taken out and replaced in the three rows that will remain. All of this has been done with the approval of the proper authorities. The overall landscape design proposes the new planting of 156 trees and the creation of publicly accessible gardens on the site.

Meanwhile, you might want to try see the Barnes of fond memory, while you still can. Visiting days during the last week before the closings will be increased.

Stewart said:

We do plan to be open all week while classes are on winter break from Dec. 26-31 and on Jan. 2 and 3, to allow access to those rooms and to the whole gallery and Arboretum. Tickets are still available.

And tickets will also soon become available for the film documentary that opposes the Barnes move, “The Art of the Steal.” Having been screened at four film festivals, Don Argott‘s polemic opens in New York on Feb. 26 and is expected to open nationally in March, according to its publicist, Susan Norget Film Promotion. The Barnes people anxiously await an as-yet-unannounced opening in Philly.

UPDATE: The Philly run, I’m now told, will open on Feb. 26 at the Ritz 5 theater. (I assume that a Friends of the Barnes protest demonstration will open there and then as well!) And thanks to Christopher Knight, art critic of the LA Times (who appears in the film), for alerting me to the Santa Fe Film Festival and AFI Fest screenings, linked above.

I did see the documentary at its New York Film Festival screening, and I do owe you my review. But since I’ve waited this long, I think I’ll hold off until the commercial release. I will tell you now, though, that although I strongly agree that the Barnes should remain in Merion, the film, for me, seriously undermined its own credibility by committing errors of substance and emphasis. More on this eventually…

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