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The Party is Just Beginning

Posted by Kimberly Camp
Kimberly Camp
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on Friday, 22 June 2012 in Uncategorized

The Party is Just Beginning

That evening, the Benefactors’ Gala began at 6 PM sharp. I arrived to the front gates with my good friend Lonnie Graham. He wore his Nehru jacket – authentic from India, and I wore a simple yet elegant bright red dress. A photographer was positioned just inside of Neubauer Court, flanked by a staff member taking down the names of all the entrants. On this second visit to the galleries, I looked more closely for the things that seem to be missing. The list was getting longer.


Angelica Rudenstine in the Changing Exhibition Gallery

The changing exhibition gallery was now open, and it contained an amazing display of archival materials documenting the life and times of Dr. Albert C Barnes. There were his writings, and publications. The de Chirico portrait of Albert Barnes was there along with catalogs, journals, and other accounts of how and why Dr. Barnes created the Foundation. I wondered why these things were off to the side in the smaller gallery, and not a main feature in the entrance hall outside of the main gallery itself. As I walked through the galleries, benefactors and docents took the opportunity to eavesdrop, to learn more about the Foundation. I mentioned a few of the student works in the collection, which seemed a surprise to the Barnes’ education director. And there were other things that seemed a bit off.

Lonnie and I returned to the Main Hall, to cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. Deputy Attorney General Larry Barth admired Lonnie's Nehru jacket. I assured Barth with his movie star good looks and 6 foot four frame he could pull off anything he wanted to wear. It wasn't long before we were ushered into the tented pavilion constructed along the entire length of the building in which dinner would be served. Beautiful flowers adorned every table, and place cards were at every seat. The evening's program was hosted by news anchor Brian Williams. There were more speeches by Neubauer, and Watson. Norah Jones was the evening’s entertainment.

During the opening remarks, a video was played. It showed a young woman sitting in a research setting as though she was working. A male voice with French accent talked about Dr. Barnes’ trips to Europe in the summer, and his support of students and their families. The voice described Albert Barnes’ amazing generosity, in buying houses, farms, cars, clothing, medical treatment and other necessities for his workers and students. The video included images of receipts, proving his largess. The video ended with the voice saying that whenever someone heard anyone speak ill of Dr. Barnes, they should please bite him in the leg. Upon the strain emerged the image of Fidel, Barnes favorite canine best friend. To this day it cofounds me why so many speak of Dr. Barnes in hateful malicious ways. Philadelphia Magazine called Barnes a monster and an empire builder – but then we are in an age where the media just makes stuff up. Nothing I read in seven years, no words from those who knew him would support such ridiculousness. Was it that bad that a man in Philadelphia in the 1920’s abhorred elitism and bigotry?

We were seated on the front row, but far off to the side so we watched Jones performed on the Jumbotron. I waited until her set ended, and made my way back to the ladies room. When I emerged, a gospel choir was finishing their performance. When I returned to my table, I leaned over and asked Lonnie who they were. He said he didn't know. He couldn't remember. I asked rhetorically why there would be a gospel choir performing at the dedication when Dr. Barnes spoke adoringly about his admiration for and love of Negro spirituals. Lonnie said whoever put the program together probably didn't know the difference. I agreed.

The next day, starting at 8 AM was a symposium on the “Artist and the Collector.” Dr. David Driskell and artist Moe Brooker were two of the illustrious lineup of speakers. I reminded Moe when I saw him at the dedication Friday morning that I remembered our first conversation about Albert Barnes when he told me that Barnes’ pedagogy was useless. He laughed and said he remembered. I planned to attend the symposium, but I couldn't. What I didn't see where the names of people who personally knew Albert Barnes, or students of the foundation who had in their careers become quite accomplished in the field of fine art. Bill Wixom for example, Director Emeritus for the Cloisters studied at the Foundation during Dr. Barnes’ lifetime. I wonder if he had even been invited. I wondered if Fannie Williams had been invited. Williams attended the New Jersey Manual Training Institute for Colored Youth and often sang Negro spirituals at the Foundation for Dr. Barnes in Merion. When I last saw her, at 95 she was still quite lucid, driving her car and wearing high heeled lace up shoes.

That second evening again began at 6 PM sharp. This time supporters paid $3000 per couple to attend. I was accompanied to this event by my good friend John Bernard, who is also my investment counselor. John flew in from Detroit for the event, impeccably dressed in his designer tux.  We walked through the galleries, for John's first visit. Dinner was held in the same pavilion with the same menu of filet mignon as the night before. I still can’t believe someone asked John if he would show them to their seats. The evening's emcee was a reporter from the Today Show, and evening’s entertainment consisted of performers from the Pennsylvania Ballet and the Opera Company. They showed the same video of Fidel and the same speeches took place. During dinner, three students from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts took to the stage with paint boxes and easels to paint while we dined. By now I was exhausted. There was a noticeable dearth of brown fingers…

I returned to The Four Seasons and in my room was a plate swirled with pink and yellow colored sugar, beneath five pieces of handcrafted chocolate. One included the image of the new Barnes logo, and another smaller piece contained the image of a Gauguin painting from the collection. It was quite the dedication – but was this what Barnes meant he said the Barnes is for the common man?


The de Chirico portrait of Dr. Albert C. Barnes

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