The Barnes Foundation, in case you don’t know, was founded by Albert Barnes, a great Philadelphia art collector. It is widely considered the greatest collection of Post-Impressionism and Modern Art. Barnes had a great eye, and as a result he amassed a very concentrated collection of true masterpieces. When he first showed his collection, it was met with poor reviews by the Philadelphia art establishment, leading to animosity between Barnes himself and this establishment that would so want to be apart of his collection later.
Before he died, Barnes wrote his will to insure that his collection would be remain as he intended it, in Lower Merion, which is about five miles outside of the city. It is now in the process of being moved to Benjamin Franklin Parkway, very close to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. How did this happen? Political maneuvering and some corrupt legal dealings, honestly. And some people are very upset with the indenture being changed.
But does it matter? To me, no. While I understand that the institution of museums is something that kind of problematic and can dilute the experience of art, the most important thing about art is that people, all people, having access to it. And large institutions in large cities lend themselves to that.
Another argument against moving the Barnes is the unique style of curating that Barnes used in his Foundation. But again, for me, placing curating over the actual experience of seeing an individual work of art is a problem. Why does this curating get to be preserved with other works get put into different shows all the time? While the dialogues created by Barnes are important, why do they take precedence over any other dialogues creates by contemporary curators?
I want to hear this dialogue in the art world. Art people arguing for accessible Barnes. Instead, we see the people in charge in the city versus the people who care about art. The city people want tourism. The people who care about art want the Barnes to stay the same. I understand that the politics may not be pure, but still I am pro-Barnes in the city.
Lastly, the Barnes has no money. The money was lost in political legal dealings, but that doesn’t make it any less lost. It would be better to have the collection together in Philadelphia, then a watered down Foundation in Merion. People suggest that if they have enough money for the new building then they would have had enough money to keep it in Merion. But a museum needs a source of income. They need a political and social elite people to see it and be aware of it and give them money. I think using the money to keep in it in Merion is a temporary fix. And I still argue that prioritizing the dialogues between art created by Barnes is elitist and poorly nostalgic in its own way.
I feel like you cannot exploit art if people are getting to see it. And if you say that institutions do that, then you are giving too much power to the institution. Instead give the power to the art, by seeing it, and talking about it and allowing it to exist where people can interact with it.