Changes at the Barnes Foundation

I scheduled a visit with Margaret Little, senior project manager at the Barnes Foundation, to see how the conservation department works on a day-to-day basis…but I was also interested to see how they are managing the monstrous task of moving the entire collection to downtown Philadelphia.

Leila, a graduate intern from the Sorbonne, and I drove out to Merion on Tuesday, forgetting that the museum is only open to the public Wed-Sun. We didn’t get much time to peruse the galleries, but Margaret was kind to walk us through and talk a little about how things will be changing. Fortunately I already took a trip to the Barnes in October, so I was able to see the entire place in tact before the transformation. Leila wasn’t so lucky, but at least she did get to see the closed off spaces and will be able to go back for a “real” visit before returning to Paris.

The fact that I live a few blocks from the Parkway means that I see the progress of the new Barnes site almost every day. It’s definitely coming along. All of the growth at the new site is also reflected in the old building, in the pace at which art is coming down. Only one half of the top floor is closed at the moment, but the rest of the second floor will be closing in early 2011, so make sure you get there fast! The artwork is actually still on the walls in the closed off section, it’s just behind a safety barrier as conservators work to treat frames, silver and any other objects in need of help. The extra space definitely comes in handy, and who can complain about working below a Modigliani all day!

Barnes created for himself a very thorough collection of amazing art. I just hope to learn more his motivation for collecting and what was going through his head as he set up the pieces for display. The summer program at the Barnes is a good place to start my research. And for those of you who would like to learn more about the controversial relocation of the museum, rent a copy of The Art of the Steal; it’s not exactly pro-move, but even the conservators are recommending it for it’s informational content!

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