Albert C. Barnes, surrounded by his collection. The residual presence of this prescient connoisseur and progressive liberal will be lost in the transition to the Parkway.

Six more weeks is all you have for a final infusion of “tranquil respite,” something you’re not likely to experience next year on the Parkway. Your farewell tour will be especially poignant because Merion’s second floor has been closed since the first of the year.

July 3 won’t initiate a simple geographical transition, a brief hiatus in operations as the fabled art collection is trucked eight miles across the city line.

This isn’t, for instance, like the Whitney Museum of American Art moving from uptown Manhattan back downtown, which is supposed to happen in a few years. The closing of Merion not only marks the end of an era, it also represents a radical transformation in the nature of the institution. In the process, the essential spirit of the place – its genius loci – and a good deal of Albert C. Barnes as well, will be left behind.

Barnes Parkway will resemble Barnes Merion in some respects. The 23 galleries are being replicated, so if you were led in blindfolded you wouldn’t immediately notice a difference, except perhaps for ambient traffic noise.

The Replica also will better accommodate the public for things like parking, shopping, and getting lunch.

But the Replica (or, if you prefer, the Faux Barnes) will be a different institution, a museum with members instead of a school. No more strolls through the Merion arboretum (the “tranquil respite” component) and, most important, no more historical context.


Edward J. Sozanski
Philadelphia Inquirer