Welcome to Art Talk With Botswana, where we like discuss paintings and shit. Today I’m going to tell you about my recent trip to see the Barnes Foundation at its brand new home in Center City Philadelphia. They actually let me in to see one of the most famous art collections in the world. Yeah, I was as surprised as you are.
First a bit of background: the Barnes collection was put together in the teens and 20s by Dr. Albert Barnes, a Philadelphia doctor who invented an antibiotic and then struck it rich in the pharmaceutical business. He amassed a redonkulous collection of mostly European impressionist and post-impressionist art. Barnes bought 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezzanes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 18 Rousseaus, 16 Modiglianis, 11 Degas, 6 Seurats as well as other paintings by Gaugain, Titian, El Greco, Goya, Manet, Monet, Miro and a huge collection of African masks and carvings.
Then in 1922 the doctor opened the Barnes Foundation on an estate in the suburb of Merion. The goal of the foundation was educational: the visiting hours were restrictive and Barnes refused to loan out his collection to other museums. And instead of arranging the paintings by time period like most museums, Barnes created “ensembles” — rooms full of paintings from different artists and periods.
The Barnes opened its new museum in May, after a long and contentious fight over control of the museum. Check out the documentary The Art of the Steal for all the ins and outs of what happened. Basically Barnes didn’t want the “Philadelphia Establishment” to ever control his Foundation, but the city’s political elite and some friendly judges were able to get the museum moved to new location near Columbus Circle downtown. Some people are still extremely pissed about this.
So yadda yadda, I was back in town for the holiday weekend and managed to get a ticket to see the exhibit. There are strict limits on how many people can visit the museum each day but I convinced my mom to break her boycott and order tickets so we could go. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve gotten a woman to compromise her values!
This isn’t the Sunday New York Times or whatever fancy shit you read. Here we evaluate art based on the Botswana Meat Commission Scale of Art Criticism.
1. Would Botswana put this fucking piece of art up in his living room?
2. Would Botswana steal this fucking piece of art if he could get away with it? (Reserved for only the finest artworks and shit.)
3. How does this fucking piece of art compare to other fucking pieces of art? (What’s the point of life if we can’t turn everything into a competition?)
Let’s get to the
Barnes was the ultimate Renior super-fan. The dude stocked his collection with 181 one of them. That’s fucking insane. Renoir’s stamp is all over this place, in nearly every room there’s at least one of them. People fucking love Renoir. His shit is soothing and goes down easy. But he does that shit well. He’s basically the Steely Dan of painting. No one really wants to rock out to an impressionist portrait of young girls sitting in a garden, but seeing all his shit together in one place is still pretty fucking amazing. I wouldn’t turn down a Steely Dan concert, either.
So Barnes loved him some Renoir, but his collection was also stocked deep with Cezannes. I fucking love Cezanne. And seeing his paintings right up next to Renoir’s is what makes the Barnes so amazing. Cezanne was somewhat of a badass who makes Renoir seem like kind of a pussy, frankly. But he also didn’t go full bath salts like Van Gogh. He kept his shit together more or less. He’s all like, “I’m gonna paint a still life in my inimitable complex style, but instead of just a bowl of fruit, I’M GONNA PUT A SKULL IN THE PAINTING, YO.” Also the depth of his colors are mind-blowing and must be seen in person.
You know when you don’t listen to your good sense and hang around at a house party way too late? There’s that moment at like 4 a.m. when you look around and there’s nobody left except for the two hobos sniffing cans of spray paint in the corner? Well one of those hobos was probably Van Gogh. So don’t judge him, he is a genius. I had seen Van Gogh’s shit before when visiting the Musee D’Orsay in Paris, but encountering him again was fucking amazing and worth the price of admission alone. His shit gets you hyped up like a can of 4LOKO. I don’t know how anyone could leave the Barnes not rooting for Van Gogh to finally win over that chick he sent his severed ear to. He’s a complete mess of a human being but those are always the ones who put out the great art. Not only would I steal his art (no one can love it like I can!) but I’m going to name him a first-team Art Hall of Famer and possibly the G.O.A.T.
Matisse is another artist that Barnes loved and people were fucking losing their shit in every room that had a Matisse in it. But I’mma say it now: Matisse blows! I’m familiar with the guy’s art. I’ve been to the Musee Matisse in France (which is in his pastel fucking house, of course) and I still just do not understand the obsession with the guy. There’s way too much fucking prancing involved in his shit. And as soon as his figures stop flailing about like Rowen during an avant-garde community dance performance, you realize that Matisse can’t draw for shit. I mean, LOOK AT THIS FUCKING BULLSHIT. If I paid Matisse to paint my kid, and then he gave me that, I’d want my money back! Matisse’s fans are the kind of people who only read books recommended to them by Oprah. He is the Gotye of art.
Yo when I go to a museum, I like to really grill a painting. I stare at that shit like a Korean bodega owner stares at black customers. This time, though, I took a glance at that chick’s birth canal and then kinda like walked across the room but kept it in my peripheral vision. Peripherals, kid. It’s how you avoid looking like Creepy McCreeperton in a situation like this.
Barnes didn’t really seem to dig abstract art very much but he did pick up a few Miros. This shit makes me want to put on some kraut rock and get weird.
Rousseau was a fascinating dude who worked in a toll booth and then just like painted shit on the side. That has to make him the most successful toll booth worker of all time, right? Anyway, for a guy who never actually went anywhere, he had a vivid imagination and beautiful paint stroke. All his shit seems to be of like jungles and tigers and shit. Which is dope. Rousseau is my new favorite motherfucker in the history of art. I’m naming him to my Botswana First Team Artists Rookie Team, and putting him somewhere between Picasso and Kandinsky in my All Time Art Power Rankings.
And as I always say after critiquing the arts and whatnot: If you don’t like it, YOU DON’T KNOW ART.
All photos via BarnesFoundation.org.