I took a bus tour trip to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia this week. The bus
was full—48 of us. I think I was the youngest.
It was an easy ride into Philadelphia without having to worry about traffic or
parking. We were let out right at the door and enjoyed looking around at the
pleasant setting of the museum. Although the grounds aren’t spacious, they are
very pleasant with large shaggy hemlock type evergreens and two large shallow
reflecting pools filled with smooth river rocks. It was a restful scene.
We were ushered in and given headphones and an ipad?/ipod? gadget to follow the
museum offerings with an audio tour. A pleasant guide gave a brief summary of how
to work the equipment and asked if there were any questions. None.
But—-! I think individually, each one of us went up to a guide in panic asking
questions: “How come I can’t hear anything?” “How do I make it go to Room 19?”
“How do you turn it on?” (that was me) “Where’s the volume?” and so forth.
Because you see, the new museum has the newest gadgets, but OUR GROUP, for the
most part, hadn’t a clue how to work them!
After a while, everyone was moseying along the rooms, finding the numbered
artwork that could be accessed by audio instruction. I’d say after a half hour
or so, most of the headphones were just dangling from people’s elbows.
Once in a while a group with a lecturing docent would pass by and I’d strain to
listen to his talk—-nice!
Dr. Barnes was an avid art collector. I mean avid. There are hundreds and
hundreds of paintings –with some rooms literally being packed from top to bottom.
There are outstanding paintings by Matisse, Cezanne, Modigliani, Glackens–and lots
of them, not just one or two! It’s amazing.
There is one little hitch. None of the paintings has an identifying placard–
to name the artist, date and title of painting, etc. You are on your own except
for a small brass tag on the lower frame. The brass tag gives the last name of
the artist—Cezanne, Demuth, Prendergast, etc. Sometimes the brass is so
darkened with age that you can’t read the name. Sometimes the painting is
so high on the wall you can’t read it. Sometimes the painting is so low on
the wall you can’t read it. Also, even though it might say “Prendergast”, there
were two Prendergasts who painted—-Charles and Maurice—which one?
The brass sign is about the size and I mean no larger than a large paper clip.
It was frustrating.
There are two places to eat at the museum—a Garden Restaurant and a Snack
Bar. We had an iced coffee and chocolate chip cookie at the Snack Bar–very
welcome after hours of walking through the museum.
The gift shop provided a very nice edition of “American Paintings and Works
on Paper in the Barnes Foundation” which I bought for Other Half. The
illustrations at the beginning of this post are taken from that book.
Take an interesting tour of your own at www.barnesfoundation.org –the online
presentation is very good. Identified, too!