The Vikings are going to Philadelphia this week, and presumably some brave Vikings fans are going with them. John Bonnes, who lived in Philly for three years and is married to a Philadelphian, wants you to get over last winter’s sting and embrace Philly. Here’s how.
Part 2: They Want What They Want And They Do Not Give Up
There’s another, older stereotype than the shirtless Eagles fan that climbs greased light poles: the high society blue blood that dotes over fashion and art galleries. The story of the Barnes Foundation shows they have one thing in common: they want what they want, and they don’t stop until they get it.
The Barnes Foundation was an art collection outside of Philadelphia, started by Albert C. Barnes, who was originally mocked by those blue bloods for purchasing crazy, informal styles by new “artists” like Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. But as impressionism and modernism gained acceptance, those same blue bloods at the Philadelphia Art Museum slowly realized two things:
1. Barnes was sitting on a gold mine.
A really top notch art museum might have a few paintings by Picasso. Barnes had 46. He also has seven paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, 11 be Edgar Degas and six by George Seurant. But it was the impressionists, who he supported when they were new and young and struggling where he really shined. He had over 300 more paintings by Renoir, Cezanne and Matisse. It is likely the greatest collection of impressionist and modernist art and is valued currently at over $25 billion dollars.
2. Barnes really hated the blue bloods at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Turns out when you mock someone life’s passion for a few decades, they remember. Barnes had his own museum in a Philadelphia suburb to display the art and (by most standards) an unorthodox way of displaying them. Each small room (some the size of a bedroom) had four walls and on each of the walls would be, say, twelve masterpiece paintings, packed together, arranged symmetrically to encourage the viewer to compare and contrast them.
I pointed out yesterday that Philadelphians are big fans of spite. Barnes was determined the Philadelphia Museum Art would never get his collections, so he dictated when he died in 1951 that those paintings were NEVER to be moved. Not from that city, not from that house and not from those walls. And he set up his foundation to keep the blue bloods out.
It worked for about 50 years, but eventually the Philly elite started infiltrating the Barnes Foundation’s board, then used maintenance costs of the building to move the whole collection to downtown Philly. The battle was stuck in court or government rulings for years, but eventually a new building was born. It is much bigger than Barnes was, but the gallery itself still has small rooms, packed walls, and they did mostly stay true to the wall arrangements that Barnes had.
That’s Philly. Even among the blue bloods, they will set up a foundation purely to spite others for decades after their death. But that won’t be enough, because the other side is also Philadelphians.
Places To Visit
You’re never going to learn to love Philadelphia in Minneapolis. You have to go there. So if you’re joining the Vikings on their trip to the city of Brotherly Love this week, here are today’s recommendations:
Even if you don’t think you like art, find an hour to visit the Barnes, just to say you saw it. An hour is not enough, but no amount of time is enough, so check it out until you’re full, and you can certainly walk through the limited packed rooms in about 20 minutes. Maybe even try to do what Barnes wanted: pick two corresponding paintings and see what the artists did differently and maybe ask “Why?”
If you’re still skeptica, I went to the Barnes with my 12-year-old son, who lasted about ten minutes before he wanted to go. Trying to buy a little time, I asked him which painting in the room we were in he liked the most. The one he pointed to was a small Cezanne. Paul Cezanne is one of the most famous impressionist painters, and both Matisse and Picasso called him “the father of us all.” Of course, Barnes has 69 (nice!) paintings by Cezanne.
“Now,” I said, “go into the next room, and without looking at the labels, stand in the middle of the room and see if you can find a painting that reminds you of this one, and see if it is a Cezanne.” He did, and it was, and he did the same thing in every other room. It became easy. He could recognize a Cezanne just by walking into a room. (Too easy, it turns out; it only bought me about 15 more minutes.) That’s not something you can do in any other museum in the world.
And after that, if your kid still has energy (or you just want to clear your head) walk over to the new “Rail Park” which is being built on an abandoned elevated train track that went through the northern half of the city. It’s not big, but it’s cool.
Finally, if you don’t have kids, walk three blocks further to Love City Brewing about three blocks from Rail Park. The neighborhood looks a little like a war zone in places, but it’s gentrifying quickly and the beer and the ambiance inside are excellent.