Art Surrounds Me: The Pursuit of Art In Philly

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A few weeks ago, Mom and I traveled to Philadelphia for a weekend trip.  We stayed at the urHome in Philly Hotel in downtown Philly in a fabulous two-bedroom flat with views and its own private terrace.  (Sidenote: I did not realize how luxurious or spacious the hotel flat would be and got a good deal on Expedia.)  The hotel concierge was very accommodating and a consummate professional and this only added to our stay.  (Needless to say, whenever we visit Philly again, we will return here.)

I’d been wanting to spend time in Philly for some time now.  Most famous for the Philly Cheeseteak and the Liberty Bell and the home of “Rocky,” Philadelphia is also a cultural mecca for music and the arts---The birth of Philly soul and Neo-Soul have its roots here, need I say more.  Some of its most renowned art museums are the Barnes Foundation (recently relocated to Philadelphia from Merion, PA in 2012) and the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and Rodin Museum.

After reading about the Barnes Foundation and watching the documentary, The Art of the Steal (2009)---a fascinating documentary which shares the origins and history of the Barnes Foundation as well as the long illustrious fight it had to maintain control of its school and art collection, I highly recommend it.

I wanted to make sure that I visited its new building and observed its collection in person.  The Barnes Foundation’s new building and its surrounding gardens are stunning and an architectural gem to the city and its layout gives full advantage to visitors for the viewing of the art collections.

The Barnes Collection is vast and worth billions of dollars.  It includes paintings by Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, Rousseau, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Goya and Gaugin.  Also included in the collection, are: artworks from Africa and ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome; Native American art works; and furniture, decorative arts and metalwork from America and Europe.  Barnes also collected art from known African American artists.

It is amazing to think that this massive and well-planned collection was amassed by one man, Dr. Albert C. Barnes.  A trained physician, chemist and businessman, Dr. Barnes began collecting art in 1912 and developed close relationships with some of the preeminent masters of modern art.  He founded the Barnes Foundation in 1922 as an educational institution where he shared his art collection with a focus on art education.  Access to the collection from visitors was very limited and required appointments made by letter---and most were denied, especially to those he viewed as wealthy and entitled.

Dr. Barnes held a relatively close relationship to the African American community in Pennsylvania and the African American art community during the Harlem Renaissance.  Before he created the Barnes Foundation, he held daily seminars with his workforce, a workforce that was primarily African American.  In these daily seminars, they would discuss philosophy, psychology and aesthetics. 

After he began the Barnes Foundation, he followed the artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance and supported young African American artists and musicians.  Dr. Barnes offered them scholarships to study at the Barnes Foundation and other institutions including the Julliard School, the Westminster Choir College in New Jersey and medical and art fellowships in Paris.

Dr. Barnes also helped his employees financially, aiding them in the purchases of homes in Philadelphia and the education of their children in New Jersey and Philadelphia.  A further example of this connection was the fact that he left his art collection to Lincoln University, an HBCU, in his will along with the instructions not to move or sell the collection from its Headquarters in Merion, PA.

Of course, his final wishes were not adhered to after a series of events and lawsuits, the collection was moved to its new location in Downtown Philly.  (See the film, The Art of the Steal, for all of the dirty details!)  Its original campus is now a 12-acre arboretum, herbarium and horticulture library which is now open to the public for tours and classes.

Knowing the history of the Barnes Foundation and being aware of the noted artists in its collection, did not prepare me for the magnitude of our visit.  I think I was overwhelmed by how massive the collection is and the beauty of all the art work.

It is a certain special feeling when you see art work in person that you’ve only read about or seen in books.  And to have that experience over and over again throughout our visit was special indeed!  We could not see the collection in one visit, so we went back for a second viewing.

In the evening for dinner, we went to dinner at South, a jazz restaurant in the Spring Garden district of Philadelphia.  We had dinner and then caught the second show with Laurin Talese.  Everything was great about South!  The food, the ambiance, the music.  It was just lovely.  If I lived in Philly, I would probably visit every week.

On another note, everywhere we dined this weekend was great!  Even the little bar across the street from our hotel made a burger that tasted wonderful!  Mom and I had a great time in Philadelphia, I can’t wait for us to return.

If you have the chance to visit the Barnes Foundation, or South, I can’t recommend them enough...

Here’s to traveling and to the pursuit of more art!

Naj