N.Y. Times: Patronage of African Art by White Millionaire, the Late Albert Barnes of Lower Merion, Is a Complex Issue

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african art barnes foundation
Image via Emma Lee, WHYY.
A new Barnes Foundation installation includes an imaginary conversation about African art between Albert Barnes, left, and philosopher Alain Locke.

Whereas most visitors to the Barnes Foundation are dazzled primarily with the Cézanne, Matisse, and Seurat paintings, the collection’s late owner, Lower Merion’s Albert C. Barnes, considered the African sculptures as its central part, writes Arthur Lubow for The New York Times.

Barnes started collecting African sculptures in 1922, the year he set up his foundation. When he opened the original museum in Lower Merion, the entrance featured tile and terra cotta designs that were modeled on African pieces in the collection.

Still, the patronage of Black art by a white millionaire remains a complicated issue to this day. The new installation at the Barnes Foundation that is now housed in Philadelphia highlights the African sculptures, while simultaneously questioning their place in a white man’s collection.

For the foundation’s centenary, the Black English artist Isaac Julien created a black-and-white film installation, “Once Again … (Statues Never Die)” that looks at the place African art has in the Barnes and other Western museums.

The film is complemented by a sculpture show that features African art pieces. The installation will be on display until Sept. 4.

Read more about the installation in The New York Times.

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