A long, contentious battle over the relocation of the multi-billion-dollar Barnes Foundation's art collection has subsided. This week, the new Barnes opens in Philadelphia after its hotly-contested uprooting from the city's suburbs.
"Against all odds, the museum that opens to the public on Saturday is still very much the old Barnes, only better," writes critic Roberta Smith in the New York Times.
Chock-full of such art greats as Renoir, Matisse, Prendergast and Glackens, among other eclectic collections, the new building was designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects in keeping with the vision of collector Albert C. Barnes.
Founded in 1925, the institution, originally housed in a neoclassical mansion in Merion, Penn., was distinct for Barnes' meticuously arranged displays of art and objects. He specifically stipulated that his art not be moved. Ever.
A number of reasons, such as zoning restrictions, compelled the foundation's board to announce a relocation to the city in 2002. The decision met with an uproar from critics who sought to preserve Barnes' vision. Courts ruled in favor of the move.
Based on Barnes' original displays, the reincarnated Barnes presents the art in a more accessible environment.
Fidelity to the old galleries---24 rooms with mustard colored walls---remains, but state-of-the-art lighting and a host of other features literally brings the art to light for a larger public in the 93,000-sq. ft. new location.
Whether making the art easier to see in a modern building is necessarily better than the museum founder's vision of a study center where the art is experienced in a country estate setting may just be an issue of bottom line.
Visitors will draw their own conclusions during the 10 days of free admission from May 19 to May 28.