Located in Merion PA, a short 5 miles from downtown Philadelphia, the original building was designed by Paul Cret in classical style within a 7-acre arboretum.. Dr. Barnes amassed a collection of over 2500 objects. Over 800 are paintings with an estimated worth of $25 billion, including 181 Renoirs, 65 Cezannes, 55 Matisse and 46 Picassos. The fascinating story of Dr. Barnes is found in “The Devil and Dr. Barnes”.
Not without a lot of controversy, the museum moved to central Philadelphia in 2012. “The Art of the Steal, a 2000 documentary, tells the tale. Or click on this link for some of that story http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/arts/design/the-barnes-foundation-from-suburb-to-city.html As engrossing as the book, the movie and the NYT are, the story I want to tell is about the remarkable building designed on the Parkway by Todd Williams and Billie Tsien.
At a presentation by The Barnes’ Director of Development, I was totally captivated by this eloquent sketch concept of the two museum buildings, old and new. It is a perfect form of interpretation showing the Merion building as “gallery in a garden” and interpreting it on the Parkway as a “garden in a gallery”. Bingo. Not a copy but an interpretation of an historic building.
“Two Buildings One Mission” by David B. Brownlee is the story of relationships between the Merion building and the center city building and the steps that brought their plans to fruition. The details are fascinating.
The visitor space is home to a collection of beautiful southwestern pottery whose colors are reflected on the opposite wall. It is probably the latent interior designer in me that likes these thoughtful details.
The central ‘Light Box’ is the major thoroughfare to the galleries and filled with repetitive patterns creating a rhythmic flow space and texture. The large serene spaces contrast with the tightly packed galleries, as set out by Dr. Barnes, and maintained exactly today even to the same light exposure as they had in Merion.
The felted textile panels above the stone were specially made by Claudy Jongstra, a Dutch textile artist. As the light changes across them, they lend a subtle color and textural difference to the chiseled limestone as well as offer some sound baffling.