Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Updating Philadelphia

Typical street with housing and old factory

New style row housing
I have returned to Philadelphia to visit friends, see some new things and get away from intense Florida heat and humidity.  I am staying with a dear friend in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.  This old neighborhood is going through considerable change as blue collar housing is slowly being displaced and upgraded to accommodate an updated YUPPIE class and thriving art community that has been slowly growing here. Nothing new to a city with numerous top universities.  What is new is that a lot of the educated youth that once came here and left right after college appears to have discovered the wonders of the city.

The city has also been showing a new set top class cultural of cultural venues.  The Barnes Collection is the largest privately held collection of French Impressionist paintings.  The collection used to be housed at a dowdy Mainline mansion that was in one of those noble blue blooded Philadelphia neighborhoods with so many restrictions that made visiting an exercise in determination if not obstinacy.  

Street side Plaza and Bus Shelter

After years of wrangling with the Estate and long after the death of Dr. Barnes the the power brokers that run Philadelphia's cultural institutions saw that this collection valued at more than 25 billion dollars needed to be accessed by the public, better yet, put  under their control.  A major legal battle ensued and broke the estate and will that restricted use and viewing and location.  The  winners hired architects Todd Williams and Billie Tsien to design a world class museum that merited such a collection and displayed the art in the exact same manner as in the original building.  The museum, of course, is in Philadelphia a mere 5 or so miles from its prior Lower Merion location and a world away.  The Museum is a work of art.

Enjoy our musings through the public spaces, not the galleries.  There is no photography allowed in the galleries.  I guess having spent 150 million on the new building now they have to collect it back selling post cards!  I have seen the collection in its original setting and its quirky gallery displays with metal hinges and African masks making all kinds of relationships between the paintings and Barnes.  I did not want to see the paintings as such, I wanted to see the new museum which is unique and provides a museum within a museum.  

There are over eight hundred major paintings by  Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Cezanne, Seurat, Van Gogh, and numerous other major and lesser artists. The way the paintings are displayed is very troubling for me.  Fabulous paintings are arranged by style or color or artist and balanced in a manner where if you have a square shaped painting on  one side of the room then, there must be a balancing one on the other - eccentric and quaint, don't you think?  There are  almost two hundred Renoirs.  These stand out for the manner in which the  Barnes chose to display them as pretty much the wallpaper of the galleries.  They also  are amusing as the are referred to as his white ladies (Renoir that is).  Scantily clad, bosom exposed, 19th Century pornography which Barnes appears to have delighted in. Individually, some paintings are masterpieces and iconographic. Regardless, it is an extraordinary collection worthy of a visit; more so now, that the Museum sets is off in an exceptional way.  Most importantly it is important also as the personal collection of a man of considerable wealth who knew most of the artists personally and who amassed and chose to display this collection according to his whims in an ensemble - something you don't get in a typical warehouse museum.

walkway to main entrance
Parkway signage

Main public hall with massive skylight

Sculptural table and interior fountain evocative  of the Villa Llante.  Great for the many parties that all kinds of donors will be having here.

Fabric and Stone wall panel textures

Central Skylight jets out of building to canopy outdoor terrace and further party space

View facing out of same terrace as above featuring deck seating and outdoor fire place 
Street-side building facade with windows that light collection gallery

Another street-side view of building of outdoor terrace
Race Street Pier
Another recent project is the Race Street Pier designed by James Corner's Field Operations.  This most unique park uses unconventional materials to design conventional objects and reaches a marvelous sense of place directly under the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.  The park is built on existing but abandoned moorings left over from days of great clipper ships on the Delaware River. The park was planted with large specimen plants that according to my friends have filled in even more during this growing season.   It must have been a great location to see the 4th of July fireworks that have at times cascaded off the bridge.  It is not a spot for fishing as it is noted everywhere.  Consensus from my group felt that there are other fishing spots on the river and cutting fish heads or leaving entrails behind my slightly detract.  

Dramatic inward sloping rail.  Possibly Corten-steel panel retaining wall to contain raised plantings.

Terrace with bleacher type seating.  Shiny floor rectangles help light and add interest to the deck

At the end of the pier your are exposed to the Camden New Jersey shore and a panoramic vista of both cities.  It was a warm but breezy spot to spend my first Sunday afternoon away from Tarpon Springs.  As I write this, I have visited other new spots that show a lot of what has taken place to update this great city.  Regardless, after just a few days away I don't miss the humidity nor the heat of Tarpon but I miss my morning walks along the palm lined bayou.  Happy Gardening!

1 comment:

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