Editor: This post was written about a year ago but was never posted. There is an update at the end of the post.
Recently, my wife and I watched “The Art of the Steal”, the excellent documentary about the disgraceful way in which the city of Philadelphia finally got its hands on the paintings of The Barnes Foundation. To be fair, it’s not really the city of Philadelphia that got its hands on the work. Rather its the moneyed elite who used its power to destroy the explicit wishes of Dr. Barnes in his will.
After watching the movie, my wife and I got tickets for The Barnes Foundation, which is still located in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania. The Barnes Foundation is slated to move to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 2012. We felt it was important to see the works the way that Dr. Barnes intended them to be seen, before the entire collection is hijacked forever.
While the parts of the collection that we saw did not disappoint, we only found out when we arrived that it is no longer possible to view Matisse’s “Joy of Life” as the second floor is no longer open. Disappointed does not cover our feelings. “Joy of Life” may be the best known piece in the collection, a piece that most have seen even if they don’t know its name. Not being able to see the entire collection means that sometime after Barnes on the Parkway opens we will have to make the trip to Philly to view the collection again. After watching the movie we didn’t want to spend a dime ever again in Philly but we have no choice now. (I’m lobbying for exceptions for Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks.)
So what about technology? Only that this trip would never have happened twenty years ago or it would have happened much differently. We watched the movie on Netflix, streaming on our (my) PS3. We bought tickets on the Barnes Foundation website. We used our GPS to get us from Brooklyn to Lower Merion. I tried to use my smartphone to find a restaurant for lunch before we came back but we ended up doing it the old-fashioned way, selecting from what we were driving past.
Because change comes so slowly its easy to forget how different our lives are now than twenty years ago. No World Wide Web then, no cellphones, no GPS. I wouldn’t be writing about this in a blog and you wouldn’t be able to see it. No doubt the Barnes Foundation would still be moving to the Parkway but most of us would never have heard the story behind it. There is so much information out there now that its hard to imagine that there was every anything different.
Is there a day coming in the future in which we won’t even have to leave our couches to see something like the Barnes Foundation? Will there be no point in traveling to Philadelphia to see paintings in person when we can see lifelike reproductions on our computer screens (or whatever replaces them)?
I’m sure Dr. Barnes would be livid with what has happened to his foundation. But I also think that nothing stays the way we want it to. We could never have imagined the things that we take for granted now and most of us will live long enough to take for granted things that seem impossible to us now. Without progress, I never would have seen the Barnes Foundation save for by chance on a trip to Philadelphia.
Update: The “new campus” for the Barnes Foundation will open on May 19, 2012 on the Ben Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia.