Edward Soznaski dares to utter the obvious about the new Barnes Collection in the center of Philadelphia. The move to the center city wasn’t a radical enough change for the collection:
Moving to Center City might have made the collection more accessible, but it also has made the collection’s quirks, and especially its deficiencies, more obvious.
Barnes-Merion was a completely integrated experience involving architecture, horticulture, and the presentation of the art. On the Parkway, the collection presents itself more as a historical artifact in an artificial, and not especially resonant, environment.
Consequently, Barnes’ eccentric method of displaying his collection, and even the philosophy behind it, make less sense on the Parkway than in Merion. Equally to the point, now visitors more readily notice that much of the art in this storied collection is mediocre.
Even at Merion, it seemed obvious that the founder placed himself and his dubious theories above the achievement of individual artists and the flow of art history. His wall “ensembles” are arbitrary conceits that blend the great, the good, and the ordinary into an indiscriminate, aesthetic jumble.
Higher-quality paintings are usually given prominence in the ensembles by being placed in the center, but not always. For instance, in one gallery a Van Gogh portrait of postmaster Joseph Roulin, one of the artist’s iconic images, is jammed into a corner by a covey of Cezannes, serving neither artist adequately. […]
In transforming the foundation from a 1920s private gallery to a 21st-century public museum, the art, the artists, the public, and even Barnes would have been better served by a radical rethinking of how to present the higher-quality portions of the collection.
Art: Back at the Barnes, A Second Look (Philly.com)