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Love On North Latch's Lane — by Mark Barry

For other opinions on the Barnes Foundation, see the post on August 8 about the first Ionarts visit there, More Renoirs Than You Can Shake a Stick At. Also, don't miss Peter Schjeldahl's article (Untouchable: The Barnes Foundation and Its Fate, February 16/23 issue) in The New Yorker.

I got a very romantic Valentine's gift this year, tickets to the Barnes Foundation for this past Sunday. The tickets were purchased online: we got a confirmation number along with our ten-dollar parking fee. Not easy to get, since the Barnes is regularly sold out months in advance.

In the car with my Valentine of 23 plus years (who could pass for 23, mind you), halfway there, I realized that I had forgotten my confirmation number at home: "aahhhh, they’ll never let me in," I thought, as the fear of the notorious Barnes idiosyncrasies sets in. We pressed on.

Our check-in time was 12 PM. As we pulled up at 11:30, the guard came out of her guard hut, clipboard in hand and said, "name please." After what seemed 2 minutes, we were allowed to proceed to the parking area. The lot was almost full so we were given a spot along the driveway. Did I mention it was bitter cold? We wasted no time getting to the door. I did brave the cold long enough to notice the ornate designs around the doorway: if I'm not mistaken, they included some of Henry Mercer's tile work. He, like Albert Barnes, was another independent Pennsylvania spirit. A visit to his home/creation and Moravian Pottery and Tile Works is a must. The guard standing at the gallery entrance took our tickets. When I mentioned our 12 o'clock time, he said, "Check your bags and coats downstairs: you can go in anytime." This is too easy, I thought: what about the notorious Barnes quirkiness?

Henri Matisse, Study for La Danse, 1930–1931If you've never visited the Barnes before, the initial feeling of entering the main gallery is one of amazement. All my friends were there: Cezanne, Seurat, Picasso, a beautiful William Glackens (Chester Bathing Hour, with brilliant purple/violet water), and the main man, Matisse. The glorious, rhythmic mural, La Danse (panel 1, panel 2, and panel 3; the study shown here, from 1930 to 1931, comes from Chris Craig; the photograph below shows Matisse sketching out the mural) floats above in the archways (the mural is even more fantastic seen from the 2nd floor balcony). I could be satisfied spending the day in this room alone.Matisse at work on La Danse

We continued on through room after room full of surprises: Van Gogh's Nude Woman Reclining (my first Van Gogh nude) and House and Figure, Rubens's The Incarnation as Fulfillment (small, yet very complex, and in need of a good cleaning), and several Henri Rousseau paintings. In the simplified style of Rousseau the collection has several very nice paintings by Horace Pippin and Modigliani portraits, a favorite of my wife's, including his beautiful Nu couché de dos. There is so much visual stimulation that it is difficult to take it all in: this is what heaven must look like. A treat for me was finding El Greco scattered around the galleries. I think of his work as priceless, unattainable by a private collector, and that thought returns often while viewing this collection: Dr. Barnes must have been a formidable art buyer and astute businessman.

Which brings me around to the current situation the Foundation is in financially and its proposed move to Philadelphia. Barnes must also have been a very savvy businessman with great passion and love for art, especially his own collection. During my visit, many possibilities to generate money to sustain the vision and spirit of Dr. Barnes came to my mind: it's time to think "outside the will" in order to survive! He would have.

I've heard mention of a need for a $50 million endowment, so sell something, like one of the too many Renoirs (sorry, it's true). The collection has many works that could bring in well beyond what the endowment needs, without sacrificing the continuity of the whole. What about traveling exhibits and packaging or branding of the collection? For example, there is no book in the gift shop showing the entire collection, which I would have bought, only Great French Paintings of the Barnes Collection. As bad a rap as gift shops have, the majority of visitors love to shop and sales bring in a lot of money (a few licensing deals = endowment). This store has great potential as does its online counterpart: expand, and it's a gold mine. Go all out, with T-shirts, ties, shower curtains. There are many loyal supporters of the foundation (yours truly was ready to buy) who would proudly wear Barnes memorabilia, which would mean free advertising.

I don't know the enough about the details of the inner working of the foundations board to comment (Tyler Green at Modern Arts Notes has more insight on that: see his latest report). However, the findings from the initial court hearings don't paint a competent picture. To go forward, a solid financial base and clear vision are needed: a new board? maybe a full investigation and accounting? Definitely. Competent overseers don't misplace artwork and pianos, and good board members are trustworthy and ensure that the endowment fully supports the mission.

I love this place. Dr. Barnes was amazing, and I would like to see his collection remain on North Latch's Lane. Big courageous steps must first be taken for the Doctor.

Mark Barry ( is an artist working in Baltimore.

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