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Albert Barnes' Attraction to the Splendor of Metal Works

The Barnes Foundation
Ellen Harvey, Metal Painting, 2015. Installation image. 887 paintings in oil on plywood, magnets, steel wall, overall: 15 x 24'. Commissioned by the Barnes Foundation.

One of the unusual aspects of the Barnes Foundation is its wrought iron collection – shoe buckles, hinges, latches, and other objects integrated throughout the galleries. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more on Albert Barnes’ fascination with, and approach to, metal works - now the subject of two special exhibitions.

Strength and Splendor: Wrought Iron from the Musee Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen, and Ellen Harvey: Metal Painting, is on view at the Barnes Foundation through January 4, 2015.

Susan Lewis:  Barnes, who started buying wrought iron in 1936, likely knew the Le Secq collection in  France of over 15,000 hinges, door knockers, locks, signs and other objects - on display since 1921. Curator Judith Dolkart, formerly at the Barnes and now Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

Judith Dolkart: What you see in the Le Secq is a connoisseurial collecting - collecting of one media and also a sort of encyclopedic collecting...collecting every object in that medium.

SL: In contrast, Barnes collected wrought iron but displayed it alongside paintings - a curvaceous hinge above a Renoir, a triangular iron plate from a Pennsylvania Conestoga wagon over a still life by Matisse.

JD: To use the forms of the wrought iron to draw connections between the paintings, to underscore their forms and create harmony in his ensembles.

SL:  The mixed ensembles also illustrate Barnes’ iconoclastic, democratic view of the arts.

JD:  No one art form was superior to any other. The makers of this antique wrought iron are just as authentic an artist as a Titian, a Renoir or a Cezanne.

SL: Strength and Splendor: Wrought Iron from the Musee Le Secq des Tournelles, Rouen features 150 objects, including intricate locks, keys,  jewelry boxes, and whimsical signs, that illustrate the artistry and technical virtuosity that likely fascinated Barnes.   

In a second exhibition, artist Ellen Harvey has created a large mural, with a portrait of each wrought iron object in the Barnes Collection – each work, a moveable magnet.

Listen to curator Judith Dolkart talk with WRTI's Susan Lewis about why Barnes collected hinges, latches, and other objects, and how a collection in France illuminates the artistry in metal works. Formerly at the Barnes, and now the Director of the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachussets, Judith Dolkart put together two special exhibitions to explore Barnes' fascination with the medium.

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.