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Barnes-3

 

 

 

Barnes-waterfall

Today I need the Indian goddess with the many arms because I want to say about the Barnes Collection in its new home, “On the one hand, on the other hand, on the third hand …”

After I saw the documentary The Art of the Steal, about how the fabulous art collection that was willed to a historically black college to keep it from art-world experts ended up in the hands of art world experts, I thought a trustee at Lincoln University had sold his patrimony for a mess of pottage. Now I think that receiving untold wealth is a curse and the donor better have a good plan and lots of resources to support the unfortunate recipient. (More about the movie.)

That’s two hands.

On Thursday, having visited the Albert C. Barnes collection in its new Philadelphia Museum of Art building, I needed a few more hands.

On the third hand, the building is gorgeous in its simplicity and displays the art (69 Cezannes, anyone? How about 60 Matisses? 44 Picassos? 178 Renoirs? Do you love Seurat? Van Gogh? Pennsylvania Dutch furniture?) in the quirky layout of the old Merion, Pa., setting and without labels as Barnes did. On the fourth hand, lack of labels is annoying. On the fifth hand, the art experts provide an ipod with lectures on selected works and a booklet to identify all the items exhibited. On the sixth hand, faithful as the layout is, Dr. Barnes, who made his money in pharmaceuticals and wanted ordinary working families to enjoy and study art without the filter of the art establishment — would have had a heart attack about the entry fee and the standard gift shop and coffee shop and other luxurious museum appointments.

The museum is definitely worth seeing, for the building, the art, and the way the roaring controversy was all handled. But it’s the little things I will cherish like finding black and white illustrations that reminded me of Dickens illustrations and turned out to be by the school friend Barnes asked to help form his taste and get him started on collecting (William Glackens).

Giorgio de Chirico, Portrait of Albert C. Barnes, 1926

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