the philadelphia story


Architecture has no problem with megalomania. The cocktail of delusion, vision, ambition, and money has yielded all sorts of juicy projects: a national library for a Kazakh potentate, the world’s tallest skyscraper in a desert kingdom, a private spaceport in New Mexico. By those standards, the new home of the art collection amassed by an odd pharmaceutical tycoon is a model of rational sobriety. The building’s design is exquisitely tasteful, the grounds strike a balance between comfort and formality, and the masterworks inside are all flatteringly lit. Yet the new Barnes Foundation building still gives off the whiff of one man’s inextinguishable weirdness. The story of this place is tormented and baroque. Barnes assembled a large and uneven treasure-house of paintings, metalwork, furniture, and plants, and then spent a lifetime (until his death in 1951) trying to perpetuate his control. He ­dictated who could see his collection and when, and how it was housed, hung, and reproduced. He’s still at it. Even though a judge finally allowed the move from Merion, ­Pennsylvania, to downtown Philadelphia, the foundation is obliged to retain Barnes’s dense and obsessively symmetrical arrangement. ­Honoring his eccentricities made sense in his dark and creepy house; here, they have become irksome.

more from Jerry Saltz & Justin Davidson at NY Magazine here.