Was it an “Aesthetic Crime”?

“Moving Pictures – The Barnes Foundation’s New Home” By Peter Schjeldahl

(Questions 1 and 2)

First, let’s take into account the major and minor changes that have been brought forth by the move of the Barnes collection to its new home:

  1. Minor decorative differences
  2. Major technological differences in combining natural and automatic lighting
  3. The repositioning of “The Joy of Life” by Matisse from its original place in the collection to opposite “a great mural of dancing and tumbling nudes that Barnes commissioned from Matisse in 1929”.

Based on these differences let us now look at the effect it has on the original intent of Barnes behind the presentation of the collection:

  1. Minor decorative difference: non-existent
  2. Major technological differences in combining natural and automatic lighting: The lighting in the museum changes the artwork slightly in terms of hues and shades of a specific color but allows for better visibility of the artworks.
  3. The repositioning of “The Joy of Life” by Matisse: Although the repositioning would not have been consented by Barnes, the author notes that the piece seems less “confusing”, more understandable, and its aesthetic geniuses more recognizable and admirable.

It is stated clearly that there have been no major changes to the way the artworks are presented from its earlier home. It is also noted by the author that the integrity of the collection has survived “magnificently”. Now the question is whether it justifies the blatant disregard of Barnes wishes, legally specified in his will, and the move to the Philadelphia Museum?

Is it or is it not an “aesthetic crime”?

“Victory!” by Martin Filler (Question 3) The major preposition presented by the author is the tremendous effort it took to build the building which later house the Barnes collection. The $150 million dollar spendature that the building required and the architectural mounts the building had to surpass can lead us to question the ulterior motive of the move. Although it was political in the sense to make the city of Philadelphia the center of tourist attraction, the money could have been spent to renovate the original location in Merion where the collection was housed. Or, in your opinions, has the collection finally received a deserving location to showcase its simplicity and complexity all in one?

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2 Responses to Was it an “Aesthetic Crime”?

  1. Gurprit Kaur says:

    In this article, “Moving Pictures,” Peter Schjeldahl reasonably points out the changes that the move brought to Barnes’ collection. He thoroughly expresses the changes he felt and noted. For example, Schjeldahl writes, “The change I thought I detected was due to a clerestory window in the new building sunlight ignites blues, which incandescent light dulls.” This explains the effect on the “major technological differences in combining natural and automatic lighting.” Now, although the author stated that the integrity of the collection has survived “magnificently”, I feel that an “aesthetic crime” nonetheless exists. Barnes and John Dewey both would agree that the study of art should be “direct and immersive.” Barnes also follows Dewey in rejecting “the meat rack tidiness of standard museums.”
    • Aesthetics (n): the study of the mind and emotions in relation to the sense of beauty.
    These museums do exactly the opposite of what aesthetics are and mean. The alterations in the lightings of the museums are major because they are highlighting the beauty of the art not the emotions and thought behind it, therefore not being immersive. So does the fact the integrity of the collection survived “magnificently” justify the blatant disregard of Barnes wishes, legally specified in his will, and the move to the Philadelphia Museum? I think not. Was this an “aesthetic crime”? Absolutely. Not to mention, the fact that the move satisfies the cravings of Philadelphian powers for a Center City tourist magnet supports the idea of an “aesthetic crime” being done with a motive.

  2. apalathingal says:

    Both Peter Schjeldahl and Martin Filler, in their respective articles “Moving Pictures” and “Victory!” support the move of the Barnes collection. As mentioned in the first post, both articles highlight the differences between the original Barnes and the new one. What seemed to be the most considerable difference was the change in lighting. The lighting was changed to allow “better visibility of the artworks.” The original lighting was said to be dull and dim. Now Barnes must have done that on purpose because he desired it to be like that. The minimal lighting had to have some sort of effect on the artwork. An article in New Republic titled, “The Barnes Foundation’s Disastrous New Home,” by Jed Perl contained a noteworthy comment on this matter: “On the day I was at the Barnes, the computerized system that controls the light was not working properly, and after seeing the Card Players in the new, supposedly improved strong light in the morning, I saw the painting under greatly reduced light in the afternoon. The painting looked much better in a somewhat darkened room. This most monumental of all Cézanne’s figure compositions has a depth and a density that the stronger light washes out.” According to this quick anecdote the previous Barnes’ dim lighting supported the special features of the painting and the new Barnes’ “better” lighting undoes the intended effect of the painting. The artwork in the Barnes obviously had values and emotions behind it and the new lighting seems to destroy those components that represent true art. Furthermore, the article states, “But more light is what people prefer today, and Williams and Tsien are nothing if not of the moment.” Staying true to the definition of aesthetics that was mentioned in the comment, isn’t arranging artwork according to convenience and desires of people “an aesthetic crime” itself? As the comment emphasizes, art and aesthetics are all about bringing attention to emotions, not to the beauty that people would be more satisfied by. The movement of the Barnes is an aesthetic crime in the sense that the new arrangement is contrary to what aesthetics mean and also in that the move was disrespecting Barnes dreams and intentions.

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