A few weeks ago, I went for a day trip from NYC to Philadelphia to visit The Barnes Foundation.
It is known as a museum, though it actually is an art collection and educational institution promoting the appreciation of art, architecture and horticulture. Originally in Merion, the collection moved in 2012 to a new building on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien.
The founder, Dr. Alfred Barnes, who made his fortune with the invention of Argyrol drug, was an avid art collector. The Foundation is committed to his mission to educate. They employ an educational staff and offer an opportunity to take a docent led tour or class, but there is also a plenty of room for self interpretation of the art.
One of the delights in the Collection is that Dr. Barnes planned lessons on the walls. Craft furniture, functional metal arts, textiles, utilitarian objects, ancient African art and works from the tenth to sixteenth centuries are placed together with the Impressionist and Post Impressionist artworks that share common designs and themes. The art of these different time periods and media reflect on one another. The small, domestically scaled galleries are filled with paintings, sometimes hung in rows that go almost to the ceiling. Barnes was quite particular about how his collection was to be handled. After his death, in 1951, every single picture remained in precisely the position he had placed it, arranged not by artist or style but by juxtapositions that struck Barnes’ eye, because he liked the way their compositions and colors played off against each other. There were no wall labels, also at his insistence. The result was that a visit to the Barnes was a museum experience like no other.