Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"The architecture is that good" (UPDATED)

More from Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron on the new Barnes design:

"What has happened to the Barnes is a tragedy, and as with all tragedies, many deserve blame: the neighbors, Lower Merion Township, Lincoln University, the Barnes' management under Richard Glanton. Together this unlikely cabal drove the Barnes into insolvency, necessitating a rescue from Philadelphia's philanthropists.

"Is it any wonder that, when those donors agreed to bail out the Barnes, for the better part of $200 million, they demanded to call the shots?

"Shipping the entire collection to Philadelphia wasn't the only way to save the Barnes. But it was the way chosen by the people paying the freight. The public pay-off is that four times as many people - some 250,000 visitors a year are projected - will see the art because the gallery's hours will no longer be restricted.

"To their credit, the donors - the Pew, Annenberg and Lenfest foundations - recognize that the Barnes is greater than the sum of its paintings. The collection derives its power from the unusual, some might say nutty, system that Barnes devised for hanging paintings in the '20s. That arrangement will be replicated exactly in the Philadelphia galleries, with the notable exception of Matisse's 'Joy of Life,' which will be hung in its own alcove."

UPDATE: A different view from NYT architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff:

"[T]he biggest problem with the design is not the fault of the architects: it has to do with the public the museum will serve. Part of the beauty of the Barnes Foundation is that it is so far removed from the tourist economy that drives major cities today. To get to it, visitors have to make an appointment, then take a train or a car to Merion, a half-hour from Philadelphia. These steps put you in a certain frame of mind by the time you arrive: they build anticipation and demand a certain commitment. They also serve as a kind of screening system, discouraging the kind of visitors who are just looking for a way to kill time.

"The new Barnes is after a different kind of audience. Although museum officials say that the existing limits on crowd size will be kept (albeit with extended hours), it is clearly meant to draw bigger numbers and more tourist dollars. For most visitors the relationship to the art will feel less immediate.

"And this, alas, is a problem no architect could have solved."