Meet the new Barnes Foundation museum, just like the old Barnes - only its Philadelphia home will be far better-suited to an extraordinary art collection, all housed at a world-class location.
With the unveiling of a design for what Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron described as "a gracious, golden-hued temple - contemporary . . . yet almost classical," the Barnes is shaping up to be everything promised by its move from Lower Merion.
The long-awaited plans for the $200 million museum received approval by the Philadelphia Art Commission yesterday.
That's a milestone in a project directed for the past three years by former Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts president Derick Gillman - an effort that stretches back eight years, numerous court battles, and protests by opponents of the relocation.
Seeing the project move ahead despite the worst recession in decades is a further testament to the viability of the plan. That success is largely due to the foundations that spearheaded fund-raising - the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Lenfest Foundation, and the Annenberg Foundation.
In a substantially larger building to be set among trees along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 20th Street, the paintings of Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and other masters will be accessible to millions of visitors. That would be impossible at the Barnes' leafy suburban location, where visitors were limited by court orders resulting from battles with neighbors over traffic concerns.
Since it was the Barnes' isolation that helped trigger money woes that led museum leaders to explore moving, the city location should bode well for the museum as a going concern.
The design is for a much larger building, which will accommodate the Barnes' educational programs as well as expected visitor amenities, including a café and gift shop. At the same time, there is no mistaking the aim of architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien to re-create Albert C. Barnes' former mansion.
That's in keeping with pledges to preserve the unique artwork displays dictated by Barnes, the physician who made his fortune as a patent-medicine inventor. Landscape architect Laurie C. Olin's gardens surrounding the building are a nod to Barnes' interest in botanical education.
The one possible drawback is the lack of an entrance on the Parkway. That stunts an opportunity to create more street-level activity along a boulevard that should be more pedestrian-friendly.
Will the design silence critics of the move, who objected to a Montgomery County judge's ruling in favor of a more flexible interpretation of Barnes' bequest? That's probably asking too much.