Barnes Foundation Defends Decision To Dismantle Exhibit On Founder

By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Barnes Foundation defends a decision to remove the special show on its founder, Albert Barnes, from its temporary exhibition gallery. Critics of the move from Merion to Museum Row say they should have a permanent display about Barnes and his work.

Barnes Executive Director Derek Gillman says when they opened in the spring of last year, the archival material — including letters and photos of Dr. Barnes — celebrated the way in which he assembled the collection.

They’re replacing it with a major loan from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, a 65-foot wall sculpture by 90-year-old contemporary artist Ellsworth Kelly (pictured below).

Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923). Sculpture for a Large Wall , 1956–1957. Anodized aluminum, 104 panels, 11' 5" x 65' 5" x 28" (348 x 1994 x 71.1 cm). Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, 526.1998 © 2012 Ellsworth Kelly(Credit: Barnes Foundation)

Ellsworth Kelly (American, b. 1923). Sculpture for a Large Wall , 1956–1957. Anodized aluminum, 104 panels, 11′ 5″ x 65′ 5″ x 28″ (348 x 1994 x 71.1 cm). Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, 526.1998 © 2012 Ellsworth Kelly
(Credit: Barnes Foundation)

“Barnes was collecting contemporary art. I think people have forgotten that,” Gillman says.

Kelly was commissioned to build the 40-foot-high Barnes Totem at the outside entrance.

Gillman points out when Barnes opened his foundation in Merion in the 1920’s, he was acquiring modern art when he purchased Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse and Picasso paintings.

Gillman says they’ll also move a Giorgio Di Chirico 1926 portrait of Barnes, which was inaccessible to the public in the old building, but featured in the temporary exhibit, to a permanent spot.

“It was always in the administration building in Merion, at his Barnes’ former house. We’re going to move it, as we always intended to, move it into the lobby of the main gallery.”

As the new building went up on the Ben Franklin Parkway, they set aside the entrance wall for the portrait.

The Friends of the Barnes Foundation wrote a letter to protest the dismantling of the exhibition about Barnes. Member Evelyn Yaari says the portrait is ‘marvelous,’ but there’s no longer “any reference to the historic significance of the Merion campus where Barnes program for art appreciation originated.”

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