The Barnes Foundation and the campaign that sought to make it famous
Have you ever checked in to a masterpiece? This summer, Philadelphia’s “With Art Philadelphia” campaign wants you to try it.
Enter the Barnes Foundation, Albert Barnes’ estimated $25 billion-plus collection of predominantly impressionist and post-impressionist art; the Rodin Museum, reopening in mid-July; and of course, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, home to over 200 galleries and the Rocky Steps. These are the pillars of the campaign, which aims to make glorious the world of Philadelphia art.
On May 21, Stuart Elliot of the New York Times’ Media & Advertising section published a profile of “With Art” — its target, Elliot and those he quoted explained, was to paint Philadelphia as the greatest art city you never knew you were missing, with media-crazed young people at its bull’s-eye. They love Facebook, they’re Foursquare cutthroats —apply that to art and you’ve got yourself a destination. That was the idea.
Well, greetings from the epicenter. We saw the campaign. We read the article. And lo and behold, we wanted in. So we map-app’d it, and we found a way.
And? The collection is impressive to behold. It boasts “the largest number of Renoirs in the world and more Cézannes than in all of France, ” which are organized throughout small galleries in the same order and style in which Barnes hung them originally — a historic sentiment in an otherwise ultra-modern space.
The whole experience, in fact, is a mash-up: a Miró clashes with a thirteenth-century depiction of Christ while a Matisse cozies up to a Renoir. Luckily for us, the foundation set curators on stand-by. The paintings are organized by their plastic or three-dimensional elements, a curator explained, allowing the viewer make note of similarities between works they might have otherwise overlooked. Surrealism and pre-Renaissance iconography? Got it.
To really truly visit the Foundation, you must know of the controversy that surrounds it. In deciding to move the collection from the suburbs to the Parkway, critics all over the shuddered. They saw the relocation as a threat to the safety of such a valuable collection — the risk of damage and threat paired with the abandonment of the original, treasured space provoked debate.
One side saw a blatant attempt to bolster Philadelphia’s tourist appeal (which, as demonstrated by the “With Art” campaign, is valid). The Wall Street Journal was particularly averse, doubting that the move was feasible at all. Which made WSJ architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable’s rave Friday review of the new Foundation all the more significant — a sign of just how special the Foundation is.
And like Huxtable, we’ll take it. Marketing homerun or not, the new museum hit us like an arrow in the chest. We’re headed down the Parkway.
With Art, 34th Street.