May 16 – August 3, 2015
About the Exhibition
The Order of Things presented three large-scale installations by internationally renowned artists Mark Dion, Judy Pfaff, and Fred Wilson. Each of these works, commissioned for the show, was a response to the unconventional way that Dr. Albert C. Barnes chose to display his collection. The exhibition also featured an installation designed by Dr. Barnes—a small room in the Merion gallery building that was replaced by an elevator shaft in the 1990s.
In designing his ensembles nearly a century ago, Dr. Barnes ignored the traditional rules of museum display, mixing modern paintings and old masters, furniture, metalwork, and household items. Formal concerns, rather than history or chronology, guided the organization of his collection. In overturning traditional categories of display, Dr. Barnes invented his own system for ordering the world. Much like an installation artist, he invited a different view of objects by shifting their context.
The Order of Things explained the philosophy behind the ensembles and their importance in the history of museum practice. At the same time—and in keeping with Dr. Barnes’s commitment to the development of critical-thinking skills—the show invited thought about display in general. How are other museums organized? What meanings do their displays create? Are value systems and hierarchies implied in any presentation?
Curated by Martha Lucy, assistant professor at Drexel University and consulting curator at the Barnes Foundation.
With generous funding from the William Penn Foundation.
Leadership gifts in support of the exhibition were given by the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Exhibition Fund and Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz, Agnes Gund, Jane and Leonard Korman, Marsha and Jeffrey Perelman, and Katherine and Keith L. Sachs.