One of three works commissioned by the Barnes for The Order of Things exhibition, The Incomplete Naturalist by Mark Dion paints a reimagined portrait of Dr. Barnes as a naturalist. (Image courtesy The Barnes Foundation/Photo by Rick Echelmeyer)
The Barnes Foundation on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway houses an incredible permanent collection featuring 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes and 59 Matisses, along with works by Manet, Degas, Seurat, Prendergrast, Titian, Picasso and so much more.
Anyone who has visited the permanent collection of the Barnes on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is immediately struck by the singular style of displaying the artwork, which appears just as Dr. Albert C. Barnes mandated with works arranged in curated “ensembles” on gallery walls.
An independent thinker and great collector, Dr. Barnes hung the works according to his personal aesthetic, and, when he passed away in 1951, left orders that his collection should remain just as he displayed it. When The Barnes Foundation made its move from Merion, Pa. to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 2012, the foundation took great pains to reinstall every work down to an inch of its previous placing in its new city home.
Now, in a new special exhibition at the Parkway museum, three newly commissioned grand installations respond to the unique stipulations of the Barnes’ collection.
Mark Dion, Judy Pfaff, Fred Wilson: The Order of Things showcases three brilliant artists’ varied reactions to the way Dr. Barnes displayed his incredible artwork.
On view beginning Saturday, May 16 and remaining through August 3, The Order of Things presents three contemporary large-scale installations, as well as a recreation of one of Dr. Barnes’ first ensembles.
Read on for more on this stunning show, and make plans now to visit The Barnes Foundation this summer.
Judy Pfaff’s installation Scene I: The Garden. Enter Mrs. Barnes plays on the relationship between order and disorder in Dr. Barnes’ style of exhibiting his works. (Image courtesy The Barnes Foundation/Photo by Keristin Gaber)
Within the special exhibition gallery at the Barnes, three contemporary artists were given the freedom to riff on the great collector with the complete support of the foundation. The resulting installations paint three very different pictures, and tease out fascinating — if imagined — aspects of Dr. Barnes and his institution.
With The Incomplete Naturalist, lauded artist Mark Dion has seemingly replicated one of Dr. Barnes’ ensembles, but has reimagined the man as a collector of flora and fauna rather than post-impressionist and early-modern art. Taking up an entire wall of the gallery, a bright green background throws countless nets, jars, boxes and other naturalist-specific objects into relief to essentially shadow Barnes’ methodology.
In the central gallery space, Judy Pfaff presents a whimsical take with Scene I: The Garden. Enter Mrs. Barnes. A colorful, multi-part display shows off a mix of cultural references, a wide range of materials — including tons of glitter! — and incorporates plants and gardens, all pointing back to the influence of Dr. Barnes’ wife, Laura, and the Barnes Arboretum on the collector.
With Fred Wilson’s work Trace, moments lifted straight from the original location of the Barnes in Merion, Pa. have been transported to Philadelphia. In a series of rooms, the artist has installed “readymade ensembles” filled with everyday objects from the administrative offices of the Barnes, and juxtaposed these with rarely-seen pieces from the Barnes’ storage. Also, listen for a sound installation of African drumming from tribes whose artworks appear in the permanent collection.
Admittance to the exhibition is free with price of admission into the gallery or to any event. Timed, ticketed admission is available for reservation online, and advance booking is highly recommended.
A series of programming runs in conjunction with the exhibition, too, and includes such events as summertime young professionals night on June 12.
Truly, seeing this engaging show should be a mandate for any lover of the arts.
Mark Dion, Judy Pfaff, Fred Wilson: The Order of Things
When: May 16-August 3
Where: The Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Cost: Included with collection admission; $22, general admission; $20, seniors; $10, students and youth; free, children under 5
Fred Wilson’s Trace lifts objects straight from the Barnes Foundation’s original location in Merion and transports them to the Parkway, inch for inch. (Image courtesy The Barnes Foundation/Photo by Rick Echelmeyer)