I was finally able to visit The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia this past weekend and I learned a few things. First, the collection is totally ridiculous. Improbable.
What I mean is: no matter how much you read about Albert C. Barnes, the man who created the Foundation in the early 1900’s, no matter how many documentaries you watch about it, no matter how many pictures of the collection you see, you will not be mentally prepared to see the collection because it just doesn’t make any sense.
I mean, seriously?
Albert Barnes collected, I’m not kidding, nearly 200 Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s. And they are hung next to hundreds and hundreds of masterpieces from Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne, Courbet, and I can’t even say who else because the list reads like an art history text book.
And yet, it’s not in our dreams. The place exists and it’s brilliant for so many other reasons than just the art.
Let’s ignore the drama behind the new building that houses the collection and let’s talk a little about the galleries themselves. This Best-Of-Art-History-Suite was strategically mounted on Barnes’ walls in a way that throws the rules to the wolves.
It’s not by period, or artist, or theme, but arranged by how he thought they looked best. Basically a smattering of various styles and subjects mounted in a way that he felt looked cool, mixed with various objects, furniture, and my absolute favorite detail: metal hinges mounted flat on the walls.
Finally, my time at the Barnes only served to reinforce my long-held mantra: buy what you love. The Barnes Foundation isn’t great because someone with a lot of money was buying what he thought would yield a high appreciative value. It is a collection built by a man who loved art, loved artists, and wanted to collect the beautiful things he loved so he could share them with the world. I’d like to think that if that collection turned out to be unimportant in historical terms, Barnes would still be just as proud to own it, with the same determination to educate through art. I mean, c’mon. No one takes the time, planning, and care to design those galleries (against every understood ‘rule’ in the book) unless they truly cares about what they’re doing.
So while my significant other will be pained to find that my art and object collecting ‘problem’ is certain to worsen after this trip, I am further inspired to seek out things I love and throw them on my tiny apartment’s walls, rules be damned.