Meet a Leading Evangelist in the Movement to Introduce Modern Art to America
The worst time to see a museum is in the weeks when it’s just opening. That’s why, for the moment, I’ve opted to stay away from the Barnes Foundation’s new building in downtown Philadelphia, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. In the days before the public arrives, critics experience a totally artificial environment—a museum without museumgoers. When the doors are finally opened to the public, the mood in the galleries is likely to be so keyed up that it’s impossible to have a sense of what the place will feel like six months—or two years—later. And the new Barnes Foundation poses special challenges, to say the very least. The opening of this building is nothing less than an art world Judgment Day, because the move from suburban Merion, Pennsylvania to central Philadelphia comes only after a brutal, decade-long battle to break with the founder’s wishes, a battle that went on in the courts and the media and even inspired a feature film. Am I surprised that the press reports I’ve read so far suggest that Judgment Day is turning out to be any old day, that many critics are saying there is no need to worry, that all is right in the world? Not at all. The new Barnes is now a fact on the ground, and few are willing to challenge the status quo, even a freshly hatched status quo. But for the moment I prefer not to pass judgment. I will visit—but in a while, after the hoopla has died down.