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Artists Respond to the Barnes Way of Showing Art

Rick Echelmeyer, photographer
The Barnes Foundation
Mark Dion, "The Incomplete Naturalist," 2015. Installation image. Commissioned by the Barnes Foundation for Mark Dion, Judy Pfaff, Fred Wilson: THE ORDER OF THINGS exhibition.

The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia displays its art exactly the way it was shown in Albert C. Barnes’ mansion in Merion. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, three visual artists respond to the idiosyncratic ensembles of Impressionist masters, African art, metalwork, furniture, and more.

Radio Script:

Susan Lewis: Albert Barnes did not group his art by genre or chronology. Instead, he looked at relationships between elements within each work, such as use of color, light, line and space. Special Exhibition Curator Martha Lucy has more.

Martha Lucy: He had no problem putting a door hinge next to a Picasso next to an old master next to a Pennsylvania German chest.

SL: The ensembles Barnes created raise issues, Lucy says, that she wanted to explore.

ML: What happens when you take works of art out of their historical, chronological arrangement and put everything together based on form?

What happens when you, as a collector, make these groupings, things that become your works of art and declare that they have to remain that way forever?

SL: Three artists respond.

MUSIC: African music

Credit Rick Echelmeyer, photographer / The Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation
Fred Wilson, "Trace" (detail), 2015. Installation image. Commissioned by the Barnes Foundation for Mark Dion, Judy Pfaff, Fred Wilson: THE ORDER OF THINGS exhibition.

SL: African music is heard from the corner of Fred Wilson’s six-room installation containing office objects from Merion. Another room has wooden benches stacked on one another. Their connection to Barnes' art?

ML: Look at the way Barnes takes a door knocker or a hinge or a soup ladle and hangs that on the wall – we think of it as beautiful, and it sort of becomes art.

SL: Also in the exhibition is Mark Dion’s  symmetrical arrangement of nets, guns, and other tools for  collecting natural specimens – suggesting a dark side of collecting.  And Judy Pfaff has created  an  immersive fantasy garden of shapes and colors, in a nod to Barnes' wife, Laura. 

The Order of Things is at the Barnes Foundation through August 3, 2015.

Barnes Guest Curator Martha Lucy talks with WRTI's Susan Lewis about the way Barnes arranged his art in ensembles, and how artists Mark Dion, Judy Pfaff, and Fred Wilson have responded to it with their own installations in the exhibition, THE ORDER OF THINGS at the Barnes through August 3, 2015.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.