Ex-Barnes Foundation president opens Collingswood gallery

A past president of the Barnes Foundation is opening a small retail art gallery in Collingswood, N.J. Saturday.

Kimberly Camp, a career museum administrator, was once at the center of the controversial effort to move the Barnes Foundation from Lower Merion to Philadelphia. She had headed other museums before and after her stint at the Barnes (1998 to 2005), most recently as CEO of the Richland Public Facilities District in Washington State. She retired in 2011.

For six months, she has been transforming a storefront building on Haddon Avenue in downtown Collingswood into a retail art space called Galerie Marie.

In it, she is keeping alive ideas gleaned from Albert Barnes and his intellectual partner, John Dewey.

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“Barnes and Dewey said part of the reason they displayed decorative arts and crafts with paintings is the distinctions between them are artificial,” said Camp while making making the final adjustments to her collection in the gallery.

She is showing — and selling — her own paintings and hand-made dolls, pieces of her personal collection and works by friends.

Camp has juxtaposed a wide variety of objects gathered during visits to Africa, China, Europe, Native American tribes and South Jersey. She points to a wall where a camel saddlebag from Nigeria hangs next to an abstract work by Philadelphia painter Alberto Becerra.

“The colors in that Tuareg saddlebag reflect the colors in the Alberto Becerra piece from his Musigraphy series,” she said.

Just as Camp is perpetuating the curatorial ideas developed by Barnes, she is stoking the controversy, as well. She has written a book, tentatively titled “Defending the Dead” and still looking for a publisher, in which she says that debt was not the reason the Barnes collection was moved to Center City.

In a 2012 blog post, she wrote that the reason for the move was accessibility.

“Barnes intended for the foundation to be organic, to grow and shift and undulate and move,” said Camp. “He wrote to Dewey — he called him Jack — the danger of what we’re trying to do is that, when we’re gone, people are going to try to set it in stone. If they do, they are going to destroy it.”

While an museum adminstrator, Camp continued her art practice, painting figurative works and making dolls. She is continuing to produce work while retired. In her Collingswood building, Camp built the gallery, a painting studio, her residence, and even a little ground-floor crafting nook so she can welcome visitors while making dolls.

“Used to be that artists were expected to do all different kinds of things and engage in the community and talk to people,” said Camp. “In the past 100 or so years, we’ve gotten to the point where artists have to isolate themselves from the world. When you isolate yourself you’re only talking to yourself.”

Galerie Marie, named after Camp’s mother who died suddenly in 2007, will open to the public this weekend during Collingswood’s Second Saturday event.

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