By joannearnold, Jan 18 2014 08:15PM
Walking through the Barnes Foundation on December 30th was a great way to lead in the New Year. A couple of years ago the documentary, “The Art of the Steal” peaked my curiosity. The film documents the politics of the Foundation & the way the art museum was being moved from Merion, Pennsylvania to Philadelphia. Located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Barnes in Philly is a year old and has an extensive collection of Impressionism & Post-Impressionism.
The concept of the museum is fantastic. The collection has been around since 1922 and each room or gallery is replicated as its original setting. The galleries are user friendly; each room has a visual map of reference.
Albert Barnes was a collector who hung his acquired work in “ensembles”. Every wall is an eclectic blend of ornate door hinges, furniture, sculptures and paintings. The collection is a non-conventional way to hang or look at art. It has been called “aesthetic equilibrium”. Viewing a gallery was confusing at first because the work was salon style jammed and way too symmetrical. It didn’t take long to adapt and then I was able to enjoy the overly crammed space in an Albert Barnes sort of way.
The unique experience for me was the work of Modigliani. Other than seeing an unmemorable piece or two at the MOMA, this museum had at least a dozen of his paintings and I found them refreshing. I had not realized there was so much life and expression to his long necked masked inspired figures. It was an eye opener. The work of Soutine also caught my eye in a good ‘dark’ light.
The paintings of Renoir were my disappointment. I love “The Boating Party” at the Phillips in Washington DC & I admire “Leaving the Conservatory” at the Barnes but many of the smaller ones (and there were quite a few) involving the subject of children or women were unappealing to me. The figures looked like they lacked a skeleton & were made of dough. I like voluptuous figures in art but the Renoirs didn’t trigger my senses.
The best surprise was the William Roberts jug. He was a Welsh born artist who manufactured jugs and crocks for Binghamton Stoneware, 1869-1880. The piece was labeled “Binghamton Stoneware” and it was situated directly below a Van Gogh. It was them my appreciation for Barnes’ “aesthetic equilibrium” kicked in.