Two writers at New York magazine have highly different takes on the new Barnes Museum but agree that the space can only go so far in showcasing the works.
Writer Jerry Saltz praises the building for providing lighting that brings out aspects of the collection that just couldn’t been seen at the Lower Merion location. Still, he rails against Albert Barnes’ eccentric way of displaying the works, which is recreated in new the museum:
The paintings are wedged into 24 small galleries with vast amounts of folk art, crafts, New Mexican retablos painting, Pennsylvania Dutch furniture, Tang-dynasty Bodhisattvas, archaic Greek incense burners, Roman busts, paper silhouettes, pewter pitchers, iron pincers, cookie-cutters, coffeepots, weather vanes, horseshoes, letter openers, lock mechanisms, one of the world’s outstanding collections of wrought iron, thousands of other objects including over 200 pieces of Native American jewelry and textiles, and 125 African art pieces and masks. It’s ruthless, unrelenting, almost inhuman.
Co-author Justin Davidson writes:
Six or eight people at most can jam into one of the smaller rooms, hurriedly contemplating the serried pictures. In the largest gallery, one of Cézanne’s “Bathers” and Seurat’s “Models” hang eight feet up, their greatness barely detectable without binoculars. The curators are powerless to bring them down to eye level, and though Williams and Tsien tweaked windows, reshaped ceilings, and simplified moldings, they couldn’t smooth over the place’s inherent disjunctions. In the end the architects have delivered the best compromise that this peculiar project allowed: a ravishing reliquary for a dead man’s embalmed dreams.
Press previews for the Barnes are in progress are today. The museum opens to the public Sat., May 26, and reservations are recommended.