The new Barnes Foundation, in a new shell in Philadelphia (Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

The Barnes Foundation’s move from suburban Philadelphia to the center of the city caused art lovers lots of worry.

Devotees of this great polyglot collection, heavy with Renoir, Cézanne and Matisse, which the omnivore art shopper Albert C. Barnes amassed between 1912 and his death in 1951, were appalled by the idea. Barnes spent years obsessively arranging his installation cheek-by-jowl in the mansion in Lower Merion, Pa., that he built for the purpose and opened in 1925, and he stipulated that, after he died, it should remain exactly as it was.

In 2002 the foundation’s board — constrained by limits on attendance and public hours imposed by zoning restrictions — announced plans to relocate. Many people, including a group that sued to stop the move, were sure that it could only desecrate this singular institution.

Others, myself included, did not object to the move per se, but felt that faithfully reproducing the old Barnes in the new space, as promised by the trustees, was a terrible idea. To us it seemed time to at least loosen up Barnes’s straitjacketed displays, wonderful as they often were. And why go to the trouble of moving the collection to a more accessible location when the galleries were not going to be any bigger?

And yet the new Barnes proves all of us wrong. Against all odds, the museum that opens to the public on Saturday is still very much the old Barnes, only better.

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Roberta Smith
New York Times

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