The reviews are in, and the new Barnes Foundation building on the Parkway is being called a great success.
Over Memorial Day weekend the galleries were open, for free, around the clock.
Not everything went smoothly. The Barnes box office suffered a computer glitch that caused too many free tickets to be made available for reservation. Thousands of visitors had unplanned waits, until they were allowed into the gallery.
Fortunately, the Memorial Day weekend was scheduled with 24-hour programming, with everything from a string quartet with students of the Philadelphia High School of Creative and Performing Arts to yoga demonstrations to performances of Chinese dance.
Eventually, visitors move from the large central atrium into the small galleries — exact replicas of the rooms in the foundation’s original home in Lower Merion.
Architect Chrissy McMillan took in both the art and the building. Her judgment?
“It’s a surreal experience, to see a building that transplanted and in a different skin. You have a very contemporary exterior, and you’re partially transported back to the actual place, but in a very disjointed way. It’s been odd walking through the halls, and knowing that it’s a building within a building.”
One of the reasons the Barnes Foundation wanted to move the Parkway was to be more accessible.
Henry Riggs is wheelchair-bound, and never visited the Lower Merion site. He came for the paintings, but the Philadelphia native, who works in hardware, soon found himself absorbed by the antique metalwork hung alongside the paintings, as part of the unusual wall displays designed by the foundation’s founder, Albert Barnes.
“Every once in a while I have to make a key from scratch,” Riggs said. “To see some of the real old ones is very awesome. Gives you inspiration. I call myself an artist, but still … it gives you inspiration.”
Once inside, most loved it. Phyllis Sorof and Natalie Simon, both originally from New York, came to see the newest attraction on the Parkway.
“I just wanted to be here before my friends are here,” Sorof said, laughing.
Simon sounded like she was auditioning to be in the next commercial filmed by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp.
“Philadelphia is being transformed,” she said. “I’m very impressed. I, too, am from New York, and New Yorkers think it’s the only place on Earth. It’s very exciting here.”
After the weekend’s around-the-clock festivities, the Barnes Foundation now settles into normal operating hours. It is closed on Tuesdays.