The Barnes Foundation

This was my first time visiting the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and it was a moderate disappointment.

Many years, while the old Barnes building was being remodeled (they moved to the current location when it became clear that the original building simply could never be made suitable for safely storing and displaying the collection), I saw a temporary exhibit of many of the collection’s works at the Musée d’Orsay and it left a strong impression (though I was also pretty young back then).

I added that parenthetical caveat because, seeing it again in its new home, I was left unsatisfied. It didn’t seem like they actually had much gallery space and the curatorial choices were downright baffling.

The galleries were small, but items were hung in the style of traditional eighteenth and nineteenth century salons, but those salons were traditionally in much bigger rooms, so the effect is different and feels cramped. Also, every room had a long of ironwork on the walls. Not sure why.

I am not sure because there are not placards identifying the pieces, only individual room guides, which I didn’t have the capacity to view because I had a child with me. She loves art, but she is still a kid and not inclined to wait around while her father reads booklets.

I am also a little baffled about the choices of why paintings were placed together. It seemed vaguely but weirdly thematic (a room of mostly paintings of children; a room of mostly women getting dressed/undressed). And, if we are honest, in the service of these presumed themes, a lot of second rate paintings were put out. I love many second rate paintings and second tier artists, but I want some context, which context was placed just out of my reach.

On the good side, it was family day, so the little one got to make a sketch book and see a lot of dancing (hip hop, tap, Indian, and Cambodian).

The picture near the top is by yours truly, the coffee philosopher. The rest were taken by the little one. Like her father did at that age, she has a thing for African masks.

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