When the Barnes Museum opened on the Parkway after its move from Merion, it got mostly rave reviews from art critics and the public. But Maggie Wollman is a naysayer.

by Maggie Wollman

Finally! I suspect that I am the last middle class lady in Philadelphia to visit the Barnes Museum. I finally got to see what all the brouhaha was about. Move! Don’t move! Share! Remain exclusive! Since the museum contents have remained the same from when it was in Merion, there’s nothing I can say about that. The new building is open to criticism. I don’t know what Inga Saffron, the Philadelphia Inquirer architecture reviewer, had to say, but here’s Maggie Wollman’s impressions.

The #32 bus dropped me on the Parkway in front of the new structure. Correction, at the rear of the structure. I looked at the building, not sure how to enter since there was no sign. In fact, I questioned that the building had really been completed since the back side was covered in large marble slabs except in the middle, where there were inserts of a different material. Were they waiting for windows to arrive?

There was a narrow walkway. I asked a man who was exiting from it if this was the way into the Barnes. He said yes.

As I walked down this narrow passage, on my right was a kiosk that announced “Tickets.” When I gave my name, the ticket taker told me that my friend, whose name is Norman, had already arrived and was waiting for me in the lobby. I took the path to the first opening, turned left and hurried forward, late. A second before I stepped into a pond, I realized that the entrance was not directly ahead but to the right. There in the lobby was my friend, who had arrived from New York City. After my apologies, I asked to go to the bathroom before we took our tour. Norman descended by elevator, but I took the steps.

In the basement I found the Ladies’ sign and was stopped by a ceiling-to-floor door. Fortunately, a woman was exiting so that I was able to grab the heavy door from her. Inside there were six other floor-to-ceiling doors. The need to pee overcame my claustrophobia, and I looked for an available stall. A lady held its door open for me. Unfortunately, my arthritic fingers defeated me in turning the lock. Fortunately, no one disturbed me until I was at the sink washing my hands.

After my tour of the museum, I visited the Ladies’ room again and realized that I had to decipher the open/unavailable code to get into a stall. I learned that if you look in the area around the door handle, you will see a small orange dot and a small green dot with an arrow pointing at one. Since I long ago learned that green means “go,” I found a stall with the arrow pointing to green. This time I was able to negotiate the lock. Challenge overcome!

While I observed the art at the viewing level, nothing so crass as the exchange of money took place; that takes place in another structure. I did note that below ground near the lavatories, there is a museum shop that sells hand-crafted jewelry and scarves for $120. Keep the commercialism underground.

The art is arranged just as it was when the museum was in Merion. The rooms seem more spacious and perhaps brighter. Much art is hung high, as prescribed by Dr. Barnes. I accept that. His money, his placement. The Cezannes, Renoirs, Matisses and Van Goghs are incomparable. However, I left feeling that what I have hanging on my walls at home is just as pleasing, especially considering that many of my pictures cost more to frame than the purchase price of the paintings themselves. I’m sorry to observe that while the most important real estate values are location, location, location, much of the value in art is name, name, name. If it says Picasso, it has value. The actual merit of the art is unquestioned.

Maggie Wollman is a long-time resident of Mt. Airy and a member of the Lovett Library Writers group.