Big Changes Coming at the Barnes Foundation

Big Changes Coming at the Barnes Foundation

The Philadelphia Inquirer
November 5, 2015
By Stephan Salisbury

Sylvie Patry, chief curator of impressionist and post-impressionist painting at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, has been named chief curator and deputy director of collections and programs at the Barnes Foundation, officials announced Thursday.

Her appointment - she will assume her duties in January - comes as the foundation on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is poised to roll out an expansive plan embracing multiple ways of thinking about art, teaching art, and bringing art to the broader community.

At the same time, the foundation will be seeking to raise an additional $100 million in endowment funds to help bankroll the new initiatives.

Martha Lucy, 46, a past Barnes curator and professor of art history at Drexel, will return to the foundation, charged with rolling out the ambitious plan. She has been named to the new post of deputy director for education and public programs and curator.

Thom Collins, Barnes president for the last six months, said the foundation "is in a prime position to accelerate towards leadership and innovation in museum education . . . with the valuable addition of Martha's expertise."

In an interview, Collins said the foundation would expand its interpretive approach to art.

Famous for the formalist analysis favored by its founder, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, the foundation will begin to incorporate more "social-historical" analysis into its classes, programs, and outreach activities.

"There is a continuum of activities with regard to the visual arts that begins with visual analysis, the analytical part of what we do - that is, teaching people how to read these texts, pictures, and objects," Collins said. "We're focused on that to the exclusion of the rest of that continuum, which . . . moves to a much broader kind of contextual research, biography, larger issues of social and historical context, [and] to interpretation, which brings all of that together."

The foundation has just completed a five-year strategic plan that spells out a host of broad goals. The collective thrust is to expand the way art is viewed and understood and to expand the reach of the foundation into multiple communities in Philadelphia and within the academic and museum worlds.

Barnes and his protégée, Violet de Mazia, favored formalist close reading of works of art, a method that has been taught at the foundation for nearly 100 years.

But with the strategic plan, Collins sees a great opportunity. Visitation has been strong - the foundation welcomed its one millionth visitor at the Parkway location just a few weeks ago - and fund-raising has been steady, he said. The time is right for an aggressive refresh, he said.

"I would argue that every great story in the modernization of the West, every great idea in the modernization of the West, is represented by an iconic picture or pictures in this collection," Collins said.

Lucy will be in overall charge of shaping programs that tease out those stories.

Patry, 46, is probably best known in Philadelphia as co-curator of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's recent exhibition "Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting."

Collins said in a statement she would "be an important voice in promoting a deeper understanding of the Barnes collection, which is crucial to the growth of the foundation."

She will work on expanding the Barnes' special exhibition program, collections research, and educational activities. This approach, officials believe, will augment interest in the foundation and its renowned collection of Renoirs, Matisses, Picassos, and Cézannes.

"A tremendous wealth of social, historical, and anthropological information resides within the collection," Patry said in a statement. "I look forward to working with my colleagues at the Barnes to bring this rich knowledge to the forefront and continue expanding the foundation's artistic and educational mission."

To fund expanded programming, Collins said the Barnes would seek to build its endowment by $100 million over the next several years. (Endowment currently stands at about $50 million.)

"You can only launch programs if you can support them," Collins said. "There are some critically important initiatives in that [strategic] plan. Novel things. We are very interested in how we grow our service beyond education per se and into the social services arena. This is very important.

"All of those things don't exist if you don't have funding."