That was my reaction walking into the Main Room (1) at the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia. There was too much art to comprehend….everything on the wall was important, significant, amazing. To my right, Cezanne’s “Card Players” and above that a Seurat. Surrounding these were Renoirs, Picassos, Monets….this collection was an Impressionist explosion. By Room 3, there was too much to absorb. Centered on the wall was a breathtaking Matisse…I cried.
I first learned of the Barnes Collection from the documentary The Art of the Steal that follows the struggle for control of Dr. Albert C. Barnes’ 25 billion dollar art collection and details its transfer to a new location near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There has been much written about this controversy since Barnes had been clear that the collection remain in its suburban location in Merion, PA. I wish I had seen the collection in its original location, although painstaking care was made in trying to recreate Barnes’s vision. I felt disloyal to Albert Barnes, a collector I never met. I felt guilty for having lunch at the museum. I felt culpable for participating in aiding “the art of the steal” walking through the large lobby donated by the Annenbergs, the philanthropists largely considered responsible for the take-over. But the temptation proved too much; the draw to this quantity and quality of art is powerful. I was dumbfounded, sensory staggered. Should you go, be prepared to be overwhelmed…and a little guilt-ridden as well.