Museum To Show Barnes Sculptures African Pieces Will Be Displayed With The Traveling French Paintings. The Museum Requested The Works.

Posted: January 12, 1995

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has snagged 20 African sculptures from the Barnes Foundation to display in its forthcoming exhibition, "From Cezanne to Matisse: Great French Paintings From The Barnes Foundation."

Richard H. Glanton, president of the Barnes Foundation, said yesterday that the loan was approved by the foundation's board of trustees following a request by Anne d'Harnoncourt, the Art Museum's director.

The sculptures will illustrate the late Albert Coombs Barnes' multiculturalism and help museum visitors "understand that great African art had a tremendous impact on very important European artists," Glanton said.

He added: "It's clearly appropriate . . . to do something special with Philadelphia. It's our home. . . . The whole effort has been designed to make the Philadelphia show the centerpiece of this international exhibition."

Philadelphia, where the show opens Jan. 31, is the sixth and final stop on an international tour of about 80 impressionist, post-impressionist and modern masterpieces from Barnes' collection.

The tour - which has so far earned the foundation $14 million to pay for renovations to its Merion gallery - required permission from Montgomery County Orphans' Court because Barnes' 1922 indenture of trust forbids the loan or sale of any "picture belonging to the collection."

Because of the indenture's wording, no court approval was sought for the African loan. "The indenture does not restrict the loaning of the sculptures. It says paintings," Glanton explained.

Joseph J. Rishel, an Art Museum senior curator who is helping to mount the Barnes show, said the addition of the African works would give the show "a slightly larger dynamic" than it had in previous stops, in Washington, Paris, Tokyo, Fort Worth and Toronto.

Barnes "pursued many areas of culture, and many periods . . . with equal vigor," said Rishel. "The most important for him and the most . . . linked to his European collecting of these justly famous, name-brand Cezannes, Picassos, etc., was his pursuit of African sculpture."

Montgomery County Judge Stanley Ott, who has overseen the Barnes case since the death of Judge Louis D. Stefan in September in an automobile accident, said he was unaware of the African loan until a reporter's phone call yesterday. He declined to comment further.

The new loan was greeted mostly with shrugs and silence by tour opponents. Like the tour itself, "it's coming from a political agenda," said Nick Tinari, a former Barnes student who has protested the tour.

In Toronto, where the show recently closed, the Barnes exhibition drew nearly 600,000 visitors, but was picketed every Sunday by a group called African Canadian Artists Against Exclusion by the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Charles Roach, a lawyer and founder of the group, said he and others had been dismayed by what they dismissed as a "segregated show" and had been preparing to mount similar protests in Philadelphia - a fact Glanton said had no bearing on the decision to lend the African sculptures.

Glanton said that the Art Gallery of Ontario also had requested the African sculptures for its exhibition, but that lending them "was just not practical at the time."

Rob Berry, a spokesman for the Art Gallery of Ontario, said that "it may have been felt at the time that it could have jeopardized the court decision if they tried to push for the African art."

The African works to be shown at the Art Museum, dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were selected from a group of about 120 African objects in the Barnes collection by Sylvia Williams, director of the National Museum of African Art in Washington.

Williams said yesterday that she chose "those pieces known to people in the discipline of African art studies." Barnes obtained many of them through Parisian art dealer Paul Guillaume in the 1920s, Art Museum officials said.

Among the works Williams singled out as particularly fine were an intricately-carved wooden granary door by the Baule peoples of the Ivory Coast; a messenger figure in cast-copper alloy from the court tradition of Benin, Nigeria; and a wood carving of a couple by the Dogon peoples of Mali.

"They're very well-known pieces . . . for their carving, for the subject matter depicted, for the excellence of the rendition," Williams said.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art show will have 81 paintings, including Seurat's large masterpiece, The Models. In an order issued by Stefan in February of last year, the judge said that, because of its fragility, the painting was to be "returned to the Barnes Foundation at the close of the exhibition in Tokyo."

Asked how he could countenance showing the picture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, despite the judge's order, Glanton said: "Easy. . . . The judge was wrong."

Glanton said the foundation was relying instead on a conservation report by the National Gallery of Art in Washington that said the painting was sturdy enough to travel to four venues, including Philadelphia.

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