Monday, November 26, 2012

Faux Barnes, Mom's 80th, and a Classic Sweater.

Recently, I headed back east to celebrate Mom's 80th birthday. Unfortunately, it was the same time that Hurricane Sandy chose to pay a visit to the coast as well. My trip was delayed by a few days, but at least I made it home in time for the big day, and also a visit to the Faux Barnes Museum. If you haven't read about the years of litigation and strife over the art collection of the late great Albert C. Barnes, then let me give you a summary. During his lifetime (January 2, 1872 – July 24, 1951), Barnes managed to amass one of the most amazing collections of Impressionist and Modernist paintings ever put together in one spot. What is even more amazing is how he displayed them. Using his theories of aesthetics, he hung them together with hand-crafted ironwork, artifacts, and pieces of furniture, creating a teaching tool for the school that he ran for many years in the suburban neighborhood of Merion.

Snubbed by The Philadelphia Museum of Art, he had very little love for them as well, and proudly barred many from seeing his collection, especially if they practiced the brand of snobbery and elitism that pervaded the museum society of the day.

This is where the irony comes in. Creating what he thought would be an ironclad will, Barnes left money to run his Foundation after his death, mandating that the collection not be rearranged or moved. Flash forward to the present, and Barnes' collection (valued to be 10-20 times more than either the Carnegie or Rockefeller Corporations) became a highly coveted prize to be achieved.

The same people that he hated managed to break the will, build a new museum in Philadelphia, and moved the collection lock, stock, and barrel from Merion.

Claiming that the Merion location was no longer financially viable, this group was able to move Barnes' art much closer to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (though not quite within a comfortable walking distance) AND have the benefit of a larger building that could host parties and fundraisers; just the kind of thing Barnes detested.

The new surroundings and building are not my taste, especially when compared to the beautiful Paul Cret designed structure in Merion (see below).

The new building is a totally different aesthetic and feel. Marketing touts that the two buildings are kindred spirits; I'd like to know who conducted that seance. The new campus seems cold and bleek.

I have to wonder at the logic of the group who wasted millions on busting the will, purchasing a new location, and constructing a new building (whose interior attempts to replicate the old one) when a gorgeous original already exists. There were no crowds the day I visited, although each guest was slightly chastised if they didn't have a ticket. "You can check at the desk and see if there are any tickets available today." None of them were turned away. There were plenty of tickets, despite the impending doom of the staff that not-so-warmly welcomed those who had dropped by unannounced, and would be charged $15 just for parking alone. This seemed to lack the spirit of "come one come all" that the new Barnes museum was supposed to be putting forth.

There is an entire room devoted to Barnes and his history, and in a great touch of irony, there is an entire case of "visit denied" letters that Barnes wrote to the great art snobs of his day. The funniest one was to critic Alexander Woollcott, who sent his request via telegram (collect, of all things!), made sure he pointed out his importance, and then had the gall to say he just wanted to drop in to see a few of the paintings in the short amount of time that he had allotted.

The names of those who made the move possible have proudly slapped their names on the building's interior, proudly patting themselves on the back for their accomplishment. It made me very sad to see the whole thing, and definitely tainted what had once been a joyous experience. What a waste of resources, and tacky enough to warrant a Faux-D© photo:

On a happier note, you may have previously seen this November 1965 shot of my mom riding the Pack Mules at Disneyland.

Although it may be hard to believe, my mom still has that sweater, from which I had to remove the drycleaner tag to take these shots.

Mom's birthday dinner was at the Dilworthtown Inn, which has been around since 1780.

Very traditional, very historic.

Dinner was delicious, and coincidentally, there was a 90 year old woman celebrating her birthday in the same room as us. The photo here is of my mom, not her older birthday counterpart!

The out-of-this-world sweet potato cake was made by Sweet Jazmines, a delicious local bakery.

Mom successfully blew out her candle as she celebrated eighty years of excellence.

More to come from this trip; stay tuned!

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JG said...

Wishing your Mom a happy birthday!

My Mom had a sweater almost exactly like that, except with orange and yellow flowers. I think it came from Broadway too, that label looks really familiar, I know my Mom had some garment with that tag.

Thank you for sharing this, Dave.

I agree about the Barnes Museum, a sad story. Also a disappointing building, museum architecture is often gruesome these days. I don't know why, but architects seem to have lost the capacity for beauty, replaced with aggressive ugliness. It will be an opportunity for future generations to correct.


Rich T. said...

It looks like it was a wonderful celebration! A very happy birthday to your Mom, indeed!

Thanks for the info about the Barnes museum. Sheesh, what a stupid misuse of funds -- and one of the ugliest buildings I've ever seen, to boot. Maybe the collection will at least be safer in the new locale; it certainly looks like a prison.

...But It Wasn't Always That Way! said...

Happy Birthday to your Mom!!

I love her old sweater, so glad she held on to it. :-)

Chris Jepsen said...

I'm with Mr. Barnes: Love art. Hate snobs. Thanks for the sad but interesting story.

Thanks for the memories of The Broadway too. It was a great department store chain that was one of the first casualties of the long slow death of the middle class. The brand name "Suburbanite Sportswear" likely predates my memories of the place, but what a great way to describe their clothing! (Note to self: Must use word "suburbanite" more.)

Happy birthday to your mom!

Major Pepperidge said...

Happy birthday to your mom!

The Barnes debacle is an incredible story (not in a good way). I've always wanted to see the documentary "The Art of the Steal" for details about it.