Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Moveable Feast

The Art Market Monitor points to a "learned, perceptive and moving" essay by Lance Esplund in The Weekly Standard on the Barnes move. Esplund describes at great length the special-ness of the Barnes, but, as the Monitor points out, he "seems to ignore one central feature of the debate. The Barnes ran out of money" (my emphasis). The "ideal solution" would have been to find another benefactor to donate the money needed to keep the collection where it was. But as it happened, no one stepped forward to write that check.

There was another solution, but something tells me Esplund (and his allies) wouldn't hear of it.

I also wonder exactly what the special-ness of the Barnes consists in. Towards the end of his long piece, Esplund finally gets around to conceding that "almost all of the artworks are to be reinstalled as they were in Merion," and that the new galleries will "replicate the scale, proportion, and configuration of the existing galleries." The artworks, the way they are installed, the scale, proportion, and configuration of the galleries -- what else is there? If we keep all of that, what have we lost?

If we airlifted the whole building and moved it, contents fully intact, the 4.6 miles from Merion to Philadelphia, would that still be objectionable? My guess is we'd still be hearing the same complaints that something ineffable has been lost in the move etc. You don't understand: these works can only be fully appreciated at 300 North Latch's Lane. It's just not the same experience anywhere else. It's a heist. It's a tragedy.

But as Roberta Smith put it:

"The Barnes collection is not the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Barnes didn't make the art; he bought it, one movable object at a time. Very few things remain the same forever .... Our perceptions of artworks shift when the setting changes .... But that is one of the exhilarating things about art objects: different things can be learned from them as they move from one context to another. And most of them, after all, were originally built to move."