Barnes, the Period Piece

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I had a eureka moment about the Barnes yesterday while I was filling out a survey from a museum studies student who wanted my opinion on how to make the Barnes work on the Parkway. (We have a Barnes thread at the left for more on the institution and its struggle. Here’s Libby’s post on a John Perrault Artopia post with a different suggestion of how to deal with the move.) My idea is no doubt out there already but it clarifies things for me so I’ll just spill it out here.

What the Barnes truly is is a period museum. And what more perfect way to preserve it on the Parkway than to create a series of Barnes period rooms. Leave them completely the way they are, bad lighting and all. Then surround the period rooms with auditoriums and other galleries that teach ABOUT the Barnes and about Dr. Barnes’ idiosyncratic, formalist approach to art education. Period rooms are completely do-able. So there’s architectural precedent and with the dough flowing in from the foundations supporting the move, this absolutely will work.

Use the rich story of the Barnes with all its personalities, intrigue, theory, and politics, to teach about institutions. And then bring everything up to the moment by teaching how we educate people now about art — a wholistic approach that doesn’t only compare Cezanne’s card players to door hinges, but seeks to tell the story of who Cezanne was; who those card players were; the class milieu of the times.

We all want the best for the Barnes as an institution. But it’s time to acknowledge what that institution is in 2005. It’s a period museum. And the best way to preserve it and honor it is to call it what it is and treat it as such.

(image is Dr. Albert Barnes, his dog and a Matisse painting.)

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