[Unless credited otherwise, photos by Ryan Donnell. © 2012 The Barnes Foundation.]
Like enormous three-dimensional pinterest boards -- or maybe thoughtfully crafted image-only tumblr pages -- the wall "ensembles" arranged by notoriously independent-minded art collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes are complex mixes in which modern masterwork paintings and 14th through 19th century hardware (hinges, locks) hang together against a backdrop of burlap. It's definitely a subjective combination, as Emile de Bruijn has said, but one that's informed by Barnes's theories about art appreciation. His original intent was for the viewer to really look at the pieces -- see connections in terms of line and form -- rather than hurry past.
Barnes, a self-made man, lived from 1872 to 1951 and passionately collected works by Matisse and other 20th century giants as well as African art, Native American textiles, Pennsylvania furniture, and more.
[Room 6, east wall. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia. © 2012 Tom Crane.]
[Barnes Foundation archive image.]
[Matisse's 1930s three-panel work, The Dance.]
[Bronze and glass African-inspired doors.]
Their welcoming, light-filled building opened in May of last year and already three books about the project have been published. Not to mention numerous articles in the press.
To date, I've read The Architecture of the Barnes Foundation: Gallery in a Garden, Garden in a Gallery by Tod Williams, Billie Tsien, and Kenneth Frampton. Well-illustrated with architectural and landscape renderings, new installation photos and archive images, this book details the challenges and goals of the project specifically from the architects' perspective.
[View of the Light Court, looking into the Collection Gallery.
The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia. © 2012 Tom Crane.]
Because the new building has received so much press coverage, I wanted to share some highlights you may be less aware of.
[Photo of open book.]
First, the subtle kente cloth-inspired facade. At the original Beaux-Arts style limestone building built by Barnes, Cret surprised visitors with African-themed tilework in the entry. Williams and Tsien decided to "wrap" their building in rectangles of stone resembling strip-woven African textiles (nods to both Barnes and Matisse, a collector as well).
The architects also did a floor mosaic based on kente cloth; a wonderful close-up rendering covers the back of the book. And previously pictured midway through this post (plus below) is a pair of doors suggestive of African metalwork.
[Gallery Doors (closed), looking toward the Court. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia. © 2012 Tom Crane.]
Another African reference is the Kuba cloth-inspired frieze under Matisse's The Dance. Roughly 90 years ago, Cret did a frieze based on African masks but Matisse felt that design interfered with his work. Tsien, in response, created a simplified yet still distinctly African architectural detail.
[Lower Lobby, looking into the Gallery Garden and Library. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia. © 2012 Tom Crane.]
What isn't coming across in this post, but is expressed beautifully in the book, is the interplay between nature and the man-made...exterior and interior. The architects also give the craftspeople their due; a plaque installed at the museum credits over 2,000 workers who physically contributed to the building. The book's forward states that when the construction party was held, throngs of guests lined up to photograph individual names.