“Ths is a momentous day for the city, for the region, for the country and, I would suggest, the world,” Nutter said. “The world will be watching and the world will be coming to Philadelphia, the cultural capital of the United States of America.”
The thousand-pound glass and bronze doors to the galleries were opened at 12:07, with a group of trumpeters stationed just inside, as the crowd entered for their first view of the galleries, faithfully recreated from the Barnes’ Merion mansion. Some wiped away tears.
“Welcome,” declared Gillman. “Long a dream, now a reality in this magnificent building.”
“We made it happen,” Nutter told Aileen Roberts, chair of the building committee, just inside the gallery. “It’s the real deal.”
“It’s awesome,” said former Gov. Ed Rendell, long a champion of the project. “It’s like you’re in Merion, but it’s better,” said federal appeals court Judge Marjorie Rendell, another supporter.
Dr. Bernard C. Watson, chairman of the Barnes’ board of trustees, was beaming. “Look at this smile,” he said. “I feel great.”
At the ceremonies, architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams grew emotional when they were introduced.
“Now, it’s a gift for Philadelphia — and it’s really a gift for the world,” Tsien said. The two received a long standing ovation.
Speakers praised the building and dedicated themselves to Barnes’ vision of a partnership with Lincoln University and of helping people see art “the way an artist sees it.”
Aileen Roberts, a trustee and chair of the building committee, compared the day to a wedding. “I feel elated. It’s more than getting married.”
Rebecca Rimel, president of the Pew Charitable Trusts, praised the donors who went out on a limb despite the uncertainty and controversy surrounding the move.
“They were bold in their resolve and courageous in their actions,”
she said. “Here’s a way long overdue thank you from a grateful city and those who have their souls and spirits lifted by this great public treasure.”
Dignitaries, buoyed by a glowing review in the morning’s New York Times, buzzed around, remarking at the exterior details -- “the red of the trees, the water, the grass, I get it,” one woman said to another. “It’s so peaceful.”
This being the Barnes Foundation, also present were the attorneys, including Larry Barth, senior deputy attorney general of Pennsylvania who steered the Barnes through its rocky times. “This is wonderful,” he said. “The whole idea was to save the place so people could enjoy it. Nothing to be ashamed of that.”
Perhaps the most emotional of the hundreds of people on hand for the dedication ceremony was Ed Dixon, 59, an electrician from Newtown Square whose grandfather, Albert Nulty, was Albert Barnes’ confidant and friend for years. He said he and his family grew up with and around the Barnes Foundation.
His eyes glistened with emotion as he peered through the gallery doors into the recreated galleries of Merion, to Matisse’s “Seated Riffian” and Picasso’s “Composition: The Peasants.”
He called the dedication “bittersweet.”
“It’s very nice, very emotional,” he said as African music playing in the background. “There’s a lot of positives here. “I’ve been through the galleries for nearly 60 years. ... It’s sentimental. Our family has been connected to the Barnes before they built the galleries.”
Being so close to the Barnes Foundation has always been a complicated thing for his family, he said. His grandfather was the only member of the original board who had children; the contentious Barnes also was childless. “My family tells stories of growing up, they were always ridiculed about Barnes from the day they were born,” he said. “To us, it’s family.
“We used to play in the gallery when we were kids,” he said, adding, of the art beyond the big glass and bronze doors, “I’ll see a lot of old friends.”