Glenn Holsten’s one-hour documentary, which was originally broadcast as part of PBS’ Summer Arts Festival, focuses on the unique legacy of Dr. Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951), a Philadelphia physician and entrepreneur who amassed a 3,000-plus-piece collection of modern art.
Creating the Barnes Foundation in 1922 in a mansion located in a somewhat inaccessible Philadelphia suburb, Barnes had distinctive views of how people should view and interpret provocative artistic works. Barnes happily challenged an arts establishment that preferred the conservative traditional concepts of academic painting and sculpture, and many people considered his spin on art education to be radical. The film mostly focuses on the Barnes Foundation’s relocation of the collection to a more accessible location in Philadelphia, where architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien created an innovative space that maintain Barnes’ original exhibition plans in a new space that also incorporated modern concepts of lighting and nature into the surroundings.
Although the film sometimes feels too much like a commercial for the new exhibition space, which opened in May 2012, and although it avoids dwelling on the foundation’s well-publicized financial problems, it nonetheless offers generous in showing off the crown jewels of the collection, and the sequence involving the relocation of a fragile Matisse mural to its new home provides fascinating insight regarding the logistics of art preservation.
Art aficionados who are not able to make it to Philadelphia to enjoy the collection in person will get much mileage from this well-produced endeavor.