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Barnes Collection Readies for Move to New Home by Williams/Tsien

June 30, 2011

By Joann Gonchar, AIA

The Barnes Foundation’s highly regarded art collection will soon move to a new home in the Center City district in Philadelphia. New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects designed the building
Image courtesy The Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation’s highly regarded art collection will soon move to a new home in the Center City district in Philadelphia. New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects designed the building.

 

The Barnes Foundation’s long and often contentious effort to relocate its highly regarded art collection to the Center City district in Philadelphia will reach a new milestone this weekend with the closure of its Merion, Pennsylvania galleries.

The new Barnes, now under construction on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway, has an internal court topped with an etched glass canopy.
Image courtesy The Barnes Foundation
The new Barnes, now under construction on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway, has an internal court topped with an etched glass canopy.
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Since 1922, the collection, which includes several hundred Impressionist and early Modern paintings, has been housed in a Paul Cret-designed Beaux Arts style structure on the 12-acre former estate of the institution’s namesake, Dr. Albert C. Barnes who died in 1951. But after the final day of gallery hours on Sunday, July 3, the foundation will begin preparations for next spring’s six-mile move from its suburban home to a new building designed by New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects on a site near the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The closing of the Merion galleries comes more than six years after a court ruling in favor of the foundation, making way for the relocation. Although the organization’s charter stipulated the collection remain in place in Merion in perpetuity, the Barnes maintained that a move to a more central location would help it advance its mission of making art accessible to the public. The then-cash-strapped non-profit also successfully argued that the move was necessary for its institutional and financial sustainability. Since then the Barnes has raised more than $200 million to fund its endowment and pay for construction. Nevertheless, an opposing group, Friends of the Barnes Foundation, is still trying to block the move. It has filed a court petition to have the case reopened.

Meanwhile, Williams and Tsien’s 93,000-square-foot building continues to takes shape on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Slated for a May or June 2012 opening, the decidedly modern two-story facility includes a shoebox-like permanent exhibition pavilion and an L-shaped wing enclosing conservation labs, offices, and a café, among other visitor amenities. Together, the two limestone-clad structures define a court topped by etched-glass canopy that will allow controlled and diffuse daylight into adjacent spaces.

As part of the 2004 court agreement, the Barnes has pledged to replicate the idiosyncratic installations found at Merion, with paintings hung closely together, salon style, and combined with furniture, ironwork, and other artifacts from diverse regions and eras. To that end, the exhibition spaces duplicate the configuration, proportion, and sequence of those in the Cret building. Details such as baseboards, window surrounds, and other trim, should retain the scale and “filigree quality” of the original, without being exact reproductions, says Philip Ryan, project manager for Williams and Tsien. These elements have been reinterpreted, he says, “so that the experience of viewing the art remains paramount.”

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