Neubauer, chairman and chief executive of Aramark Corp., and fellow trustee Aileen Roberts, head of the Barnes building committee, were announced last week as recipients of the Philadelphia Award for their efforts in bringing the Barnes to its new location.
Plans for the sculpture will be presented at Wednesday's Art Commission meeting. If the commission approves the installation, fabrication of the piece will begin in earnest, and it should be installed within six weeks, ready for the building's official opening May 19, officials said.
Barnes officials declined to discuss the cost of the piece, which will be set at the end of a reflecting pool that runs along the northern side of the building, lined by a row of 10 red maples.
The Kelly work, one of a series of totem sculptures he has executed over the last three or four decades, will rise near 20th Street at the confluence of three approaches to the building entrance.
Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien said Friday that their design for the Barnes in Philadelphia aimed to create a series of "garden rooms." While the sculpture was not part of their initial plans, they welcomed it.
"We were thrilled when we found out about it," Williams said in a phone interview from the firm's New York offices. "We have hoped that there would be a place for contemporary art."
He added that the special-exhibition gallery in the new building had always been viewed as carrying that contemporary message.
But now the Kelly piece outside proclaims that "art is alive not only in Dr. Barnes's work, but in the newest work."
Albert C. Barnes, a wealthy manufacturer of patent medicine who died in a 1951 car crash, built his collection over the first half of the 20th century, amassing a spectacular trove of Cézannes, Matisses, Renoirs, and other early masters of the impressionist and early modern era.
Williams called the unpainted Kelly work a "very, very abstract element" that echoes the line, forms, and materials of the building and the aesthetics of the art within. The Barnes Totem has an evanescent quality, Williams said, that gives it a sense of merging with landscape and sky.
Tsien added that both the original Merion site and the new Philadelphia location are buildings set within gardens.
"The gardens in their own right are rooms," she said. "It's quite appropriate, as we move to the new home, that one of the garden rooms has its own sculpture."
Neubauer said he came up with the idea about a year ago when visiting Kelly's studio in Upstate New York. The grounds were studded with the artist's work. "That's when the idea started in my mind," he said, adding that "there are a lot of connections" between Kelly and Barnes.
For one thing, Kelly has known the Barnes collection for many years, and spent much time earlier in his career in Paris, where Barnes did much of his collecting before and after World War I.
In 2009, when the Philadelphia Museum of Art mounted its "Cézanne and Beyond" exhibition, Kelly was a prominent component of the "Beyond" section, reflecting the formal interests he shares with the earlier masters. The Barnes collection houses 69 works by Cézanne.
Neubauer, aware that the one public work by Kelly in Philadelphia had been quietly sold 15 years ago, began thinking. "What would Dr. Barnes want to collect in the 21st century?" he wondered.
Kelly seemed to be the perfect answer.
"It fit right in with what Tod and Billie were doing," said Neubauer. Kelly's interest in "shape, line, and color were all the things that Dr. Barnes was interested in."
Williams and Tsien walked the Parkway site with Kelly and landscape architect Laurie Olin some months ago, and they all settled on the building's northeast corner as the site for the work.
"We urged that it be in that location," said Williams. "It would send a signal that this is a place for contemporary and new works of art."
Kelly, 88, was not available for comment, but he plans to attend the installation of the piece, Barnes officials said.
For Neubauer, the Kelly work is loaded with significance. Not only does it serve as capstone of the foundation's often-contentious relocation, but it embodies the zigs and zags and continuity of artistic evolution.
He even believes the single-stepped form of the piece, breaking its vertical ascent, carries a bit of ironic weight.
"We wanted it broken in the middle," he said. "You can't soar straight up. There are always breaks along the way. And you know the story of the Barnes - it hasn't been straight. There have been some breaks."
Contact Stephan Salisbury
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