Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Barnes Inches Toward Philadelphia

The conspiracy theorists have always believed that the Philadelphia Museum of Art was out to steal the Barnes Foundation's collection. But it looks like the Barnes might steal some of the limelight this week from the PMA. While the PMA prepares its big roll out for the new Perelman Building, which I reviewed on Sunday, the Barnes board is planning a one-two punch of major announcements over the next several days.
First, the board of the Merion art museum will travel en masse today to City Hall for a joint, 1 p.m. press conference with Mayor Street. You don't need to be telepathic (or read the Daily News) to guess that they will announce a deal for moving the Youth Study Center off its Ben Franklin Parkway site, so the Barnes can take up residence on that nice green acre. Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell has been blocking the center's move to 46th and Market Streets for eons, waiting for someone in City Hall to make the right offer. Until then, Street and Rendell want to locate the juvenile prison temporarily at the former Eastern State Psychiatric Insitute on Henry Avenue, next to the shuttered MCP Hospital. No shortage of space there.

The stage for a revised plan was set last month when Street announced that Family Court, the center's companion, would move to 15th and Arch Streets, instead of the old Provident Insurance building, at 46th and Market (see post here). Once that change was made, there was less of a reason for the juvenile detention center to be in West Philly. But getting the prison off the parkway will be just the first of the Barnes' headline grabbing efforts. The museum, which announced a short-list of six architects this spring, and seems undeterred by the latest lawsuits aimed at stopping the move, is expected to name a designer for the project by next week. One unofficial, but informed, source speculates that it's either going to be Rafael Moneo , author of Los Angeles' Catholic Cathedral, or Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, creators of Philadelphia's best recent building, Skirkanich Hall. The Barnes is probably the most important architectural commission of the decade, so whoever wins should be one happy designer.


Blogger Craig said...

Why hasn't Drexel University already bought the Provident Life & Trust Company Building? If ever a building looked the part of a traditional campus icon, that is most certainly it. On the subject, when is Drexel going to buy and eject the Firestone shop in the heart of their campus?

1:43 PM  
Blogger HowardBHaas said...

The Barnes should stay in its historic beautiful building and garden! Foundations shouldn't pay millions to move it to a fake Barnes building.

4:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Barnes decision has been made. The neighbors simply don't want to put up with the kind of visitor activity that it would take to keep the Barnes from hemmoraging money. That means the Barnes has to sell piece by piece until there is nothing left. There is no reason why the Barnes cannot have a world class design and maintain the integrity of the collection on the Parkway. With the Museum of Art, it will be a tremendous asset to both the city and region. This is the most important development for culture and tourism in Philadelphia since the Avenue of the Arts. I just hope we get a better design than the Kimmel.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been reading about the barnes troubles for DECADES. The politicos in Lower Merion seem to think that everyone has forgotten how much they protested against the barnes and complained to the point of ridiculousness. PMA didn't steal the Barnes, Lower Merion drove it out. and now they left with egg on they're face they want to act like this is an overnight heist.

personally, as an artist, i think it's important that MORE people see these great works.

9:29 AM  
Blogger LiberaL said...

The real question is why does the Barnes have to hire an architect and pay a lot of money for a new design? They already have a museum design that has been called the best art installation in the country by a lot of objective critics, not just the Barnes acolytes. Why not just move this to the Parkway, if the move has to be done? There's obviously private money and private egos looking to be shtupped here, with no obvious public benefit. Why is this necessary? Another example of the moral degeneracy so evident in all our leadership--political, business, and cultural.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Fante said...

Montgomery County residents will always bare the shame of treating the Barnes like an unwanted stepchild.

The neighbors have proven to be an intolerant group of backwater brutish folk that is unwelcoming and unacceptable of others.

The city of Philadelphia provides a more welcoming and friendly environment for the Barnes art treasures and for residents and visitors.

5:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that for the Merion neighbors to continue to oppose this move is unconscionable, given their past relentless oppostion to compromises that would have alleviated some of the strains on the Foundation.

As a prior commentor noted, the region as a whole will benefit from the move to town with proper marketing, design and so forth. It is a relief that a fine firm was picked to design the new museum, and indeed one hopes that the reckless design flaws that characterize the Kimmel Center will be avoided.

9:28 AM  
Anonymous Davis said...

One can only hope the design is actually both beautiful and will work within the context of the Parkway - that remains to be seen.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Anthony said...

To Liberal...

It would be absolutely ridiculous to simply move the current building onto the Parkway. Not only would it be incredibly out of place and scale, but would completely ignore the grewat oppurtunity to expand the educational component so important to the Barnes legacy. In order to capitalize on the new location, and to fulfill Barnes dream of arts education as best as possible, the only sensible thing is to build something more suited to the artwork, importance, and message that is presented by the Barnes.

It would be anything but beneficial to move the current building onto the Parkway. The public CERTAINLY benefits greatly from an expanded Barnes. Look passed your establishment bias and see the message inherent within the mission that Barnes left in his will. To educate the public....

2:08 PM  
Blogger LiberaL said...

The scale of the existing Barnes building is comparable to that of the Rodin Museum, which would be adjacent to the new Barnes. Expanding the mission, etc., just seems to me to be the kind of talk used to justify spending money and stroke the egos of architects and developers. I think it's fundamentally wrong to change something that is already precious and excellent. History is very likely to put this project in the same category of the replacement of Penn Station in NYC with Madison Sq Garden.

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...


Expanding the mission or not, the new museum on the Parkway will make the Barnes accessible to far greater amounts of people than the Lower Merion site can accomodate. This is art that the public deserves to see, not just a select few.

Also, your comparison with Penn Station is ludicrous. No great architectural works are being destroyed here. Try to be optimistic and have confidence that Williams and Tsien (two very skilled architects) will be able to solve this problem.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The Rodin works because it is fundamentally different from what the Barnes needs to be. It is a sculptural museum, and as such the building itself is surrounded by a sculpture garden. The site of it is bigger than the building footprint. It's incredibly park like setting adds to the experience of viewing the sculpture. Plopping a house, because that is what the current building is, onto the Parkway would be completely out of place.

As for your other comment... Barnes left his will to ensure that the public would be properly educated, as he saw it, in the arts. Currently they are ridiculously limited in the amount of people that can see the works, and have virtually no capacity to hold classes to educate and inform the public, not just a select few art students.

While I would agree that some architects like to have their egos stroked, to suggest that improving the Barnes' ability to fulfill its mission is merely a way to give an architect an ego boost is incredibly shortsighted and narrow. The fundamental point of this is to increase the Barnes' capacity to teach and to allow more people to view some of the world's greatest pieces of art. You seem to be glossing right over that in favor of finding anything you can to put the effort in a bad light.

Precious the current site might be, excellent certainly not. The grounds alone you may be able to claim that to, but you cannot remove it from the township, which is a large reason for its needing to move in the first place. Moving the whole site from its current location would change it. You would be taking a peaceful landscape around the building and moving it onto the busy Parkway. It wouldn't be the same, it couldn't be the same. A new site requires a new plan in order to ensure the same experience...

Also... I couldn't post this with my name for some reason, but I am the same Anthony that commented you above...

7:29 PM  

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