Barnes Museum pushes forward move downtown
Designs approved for second home in Philadelphia
By Kate Taylor. Museums, Issue 209, January 2010
Published online: 06 January 2010
NEW YORK. The Barnes Foundation broke ground in November on its new museum on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway, designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and scheduled to open in 2012. This week, it received final approval on its new building plans from the Philadelphia Art Commission. Derek Gillman, the Barnes’s president, told The Art Newspaper that the foundation was pushing forward the design and construction schedule to take advantage of current low construction bids. “This is actually a great time to be building,” he said.
A Pennsylvania county judge ruled in 2004 that the Barnes could override the will of its founder, Albert C. Barnes, by moving to Philadelphia from suburban Merion. The total cost of the project is $200m; Gillman said the foundation has raised $150m so far. The architects were charged with precisely replicating the gallery spaces of the Barnes’s current home, built by Paul Philippe Cret in 1925, while adding amenities such as temporary exhibition space, an auditorium, a bookstore and a café, all of which will be located in a separate building, connected to the galleries through a glazed court.
Barnes’s original installation—a series of largely symmetrical rooms featuring a combination of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, non-Western art, Pennsylvania Dutch furniture and American and European ironwork—will be reproduced exactly in the new space. “It’s a kind of wild ride, both in terms of schedule but also intellectually,” Billie Tsien told us. “It’s sort of a puzzle in terms of: ‘How does one replicate anything without it being not as good?’”
The most significant difference in the new building is that all of the galleries will have controlled natural light. (In Merion, the window shades are always pulled down.) The second-floor galleries will be lit by clerestory skylights, and the first-floor galleries will also have windows. “Barnes’s intention, as we read it with Cret in Merion, was to build a state-of-the-art gallery,” Gillman said. “In that spirit we’re building a gallery of the early 21st century.”
In terms of art, the only change concerns Matisse’s large-scale painting The Joy of Life, 1905-06, which will be moved off the staircase—where Gillman said it was awkward for visitors to get a good view—to a balcony space. The Barnes is closing half of its top-floor galleries this month to begin the process of conserving paintings before the move. It will close completely on 1 July, 2011.
Gillman said that the original museum and its grounds will remain in use, however. The current horticultural programmes will be expanded and the arboretum, which is currently only open to people with tickets to the museum, will be made more accessible to the public. The foundation’s archive, which includes all of Barnes’s correspondence, will be moved into the main building and made available to scholars. “We’re talking internally about the idea of having a small research centre,” Gillman added, which would “relate in some way to principal areas of collection, art and horticulture”.
The museum itself will be used for object conservation. (A painting conservation studio will also be housed in the new museum in Philadelphia.) Gillman said he hopes the Merion building will host at least occasional exhibitions. The foundation also manages Ker-Feal, an 18th-century farmhouse in Chester County that Barnes purchased in 1940 and filled with Pennsylvania Dutch furniture and American redware pottery. Raising money to open the house to the public is a long-term goal of the foundation, Gillman said, but not an immediate priority.
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