Originally published August 1, 2012 at 3:13 p.m., updated January 7, 2013 at 3:58 p.m.
One of the world’s most astounding art collections was only recently made more accessible to the public, and a new film, "The Barnes Collection," gives further insight into the life of Albert C. Barnes and his extraordinary collection as it moves from a private residence to an acclaimed new museum.
Produced by WHYY in Philadelphia, "The Barnes Collection" is a one-hour film that tells the story of the late Dr. Albert C. Barnes and his remarkable rise from Philadelphia’s working class to the top of the modern art world, tracing how Barnes’ passion for art led him to amass a collection of treasures that became both extraordinary and controversial.
Each artwork illuminates a corner of Barnes’ story; his revealing personal letters — read by Emmy -nominated actor and Philadelphia native David Morse (“House,” The Green Mile, “St. Elsewhere”), who also narrates — guide viewers through his legacy.
"The Barnes Collection" follows a contemporary story, too, in the form of the internationally renowned team responsible for designing and constructing the Barnes’ new museum facility in Philadelphia.
Barnes Foundation president and executive director Derek Gillman, and architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, reveal their creative processes, bringing viewers into the development of the museum from architectural drawings through construction to the triumphant public opening in May 2012.
The documentary also traces the meticulous effort made to transfer the Barnes Foundation’s priceless works of art from their former home in suburban Merion, Pennsylvania, re-creating an environment that shows the collection as Barnes intended..
“Barnes was a complex character, a seeker in every way,” said Glenn Holsten, producer of "The Barnes Collection." “We wanted to make sure the film portrayed his devotion for art, both understanding it and teaching it to others.”
The story of the Barnes Collection is not without significant controversy, as art-world purists, lawmakers, lawyers, and the general public took part in a years-long battle over the collection’s move from Barnes’ former home, from which — his will decreed — it should never be moved.
Although it doesn’t dwell on the legal conflicts, "The Barnes Collection" leaves viewers to question what is gained and what is lost as the collection is relocated.
At its heart, "The Barnes Collection" is about art. High-definition footage brings viewers close to the works — close enough to discern the weft and warp of canvases and to marvel at the brushstrokes. No other film about the collection has had such intimate access to the works it comprises.