“Barnes Foundation –Philadelphia PA” by Nancy Pitkin

One of the objectives of today’s Social Media Conference was to get people in Lowell to share more content on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and all similar platforms. I extended an invitation to those in attendance to send me something via email and I’d post it on their behalf. Nancy Pitkin, whose excellent essay on her changing method of watching TV elicited quite a response, took me up on the offer and just sent this report on her recent visit to Philadelphia, a great city that’s well worth visiting often. Here is Nancy’s report:

There are many reasons to visit Philadelphia – the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Franklin Institute to name a few. Another reason to visit is to go to the Barnes Foundation museum. It is located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia-within sight of the Philadelphia Art Museum (the one with the famous stairs).

Dr. Albert Barnes manufactured Argyrol, the trade name for the antiseptic silver protein used on infants to prevent infection. It was manufactured in the only factory in the world in Philadelphia and distributed worldwide. Barnes sold his company in August, 1929; very good timing on his part.
The Barnes Foundation was established by Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture.” He collected Impressionist, Post-impressionist and early Modern paintings, iron hinges, draw pulls, cooking implements, ceramics, textiles and furniture. There is an arboretum and school in Merion PA. Barnes was influenced by John Dewey about how he wanted people to look at and appreciate art. Barnes died in 1951 and in his will, like Isabella Stewart Gardner, he dictated that his art would be forever on display the way he had placed it in his museum on the walls.

Unfortunately, his neighbors in Merion, didn’t appreciate the traffic and the parking issues that ensued because of the popularity of his holdings. It took many years and lots of money and a long court case, but the Philadelphia Art Museum finally got control of the Barnes art. There is a 2009 documentary, The Art of the Steal that details the fascinating story about the “steal”. All the paintings on display in the “new” Barnes are in the exact same place in the same size rooms exactly as they were displayed, in the museum in Merion.

We went to Philly to see the Barnes recently and had purchased tickets on line for admittance and for a docent lead tour at 1:30 on a Monday afternoon. We decided to visit the museum before our tour because we’d never been there before, not knowing that they limit the number of people in the museum because some of the rooms are small. Even though it is in a large brand new building, the only way they could move the art, was to replicate the Barnes in Merion. Since we were from out of town, they did let us in early, but not until we’d talked to about 4 different people, and then we were told that “they never did that”. As we started our tour on our own, I was struck by the silence. Everyone was using headphones for the audio tour of the paintings, so no one was talking. If the Vatican wants people to be silent in the Sistine Chapel, all they’d have to do, is give everyone headphones and an audio guide!

The Barnes is a fabulous, wonderful, enjoyable, marvelous place to visit. We purchased their coffee table book that describes and gives the history of some of the holdings room by room to study, so we can go back next year. I was fascinated by the iron works in the rooms that surround with the paintings and the whole experience of taking the time to view the art. There are placards in the benches in the rooms to tell you the artist and the name of the paintings, but it was liberating to be able to form your own opinion of what you were looking at without reading the description on the wall.

One of the other reasons we went to Philly, was to purchase Habersatt Scrapple which is not available around here and we all like it on Christmas morning!