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A Vigil from Finland Envelops the Barnes

The Philadelphia Inquirer

The art-without-boundaries philosophy at the Barnes Foundation found one of endless possible musical counterpoints on Sunday with the Philadelphia Voices performing Vigilia by Einojuhani Rautavaara, the deeply spiritual Finnish composer whose hour-long choral work alone would be a significant event.

On Thursday, bystanders in central Philadelphia were surprised by an immense nkisi nkondi, (link is external) a tribal figure from the old Congo to which southern African tribes attributed magical and healing powers.

It’s striking how much The Barnes Foundation’s “Person of the Crowd” exhibit mirrors the current spirit of street protest and social activism.

The Barnes Foundation is home to more than 3,000 works of art -- among them, 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses. But on Saturday, the museum is issuing an open invitation to take a long and careful look at just five of them.

He’s found them on the streets of Kingsessing and Mantua and Grays Ferry, all over the city: Broken and beat old television sets, cathode ray tubes long gone, many consisting only of angular shells.

In 1998, on Fidel Castro’s birthday, the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera went for one of her usual strolls through the streets of Havana. Not that you could have recognized her. 

Until now, the contemporary art installations at the Barnes Foundation have been pretty much on the safe side.

On view at Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation, “Person of the Crowd: The Contemporary Art of Flânerie” (through May 22) takes the idea of this idiosyncratic wanderer and subverts it through works made by more than 50 international artists after 1950.

Over time the flâneur became both observer and observed, and flânerie evolved into spontaneous acts of public art making. Now the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia explores this notion with Person of the Crowd: The Contemporary Art of Flânerie.

This weekend, the Barnes Foundation opens an exhibition that goes beyond the walls of its gallery on the Parkway in Philadelphia.