Skip the crowds at the Barnes and get weird, Philly-style

Madonna with Child (Madonna della loggia) is part of an exhibit at the James A. Michener Art Museum.
Madonna with Child (Madonna della loggia) is part of an exhibit at the James A. Michener Art Museum.
Posted: May 25, 2012

EVERY ART LOVER and his mother-in-law’s brother’s third cousin will be at the Barnes Foundation this weekend looking to get in on its first free fete.

But, um, you guys know the art isn’t going to disappear in an Impressionist-style puff of smoke, right?

So be a rebel and skip the crowds this weekend in favor of some other Barnes-related activities.

Themed museums

Our big cultural institutions — a club the Barnes is now a member of — get all the attention, but what about the little guys? North Philly’s Philadelphia Doll Museum (2253 N. Broad St., 215-787-0220) has more than 300 black dolls in its collection, tracing how the image of black people has transformed over time. It’s the only museum in the nation to study this phenomenon. On Saturday, the museum presents its annual black-doll convention at the Convention Center, where vendors from all over the country will share their wares (admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and children 12 and under).

For some (be it Imelda Marcos or Carrie Bradshaw), there is no higher art than the shoe. The Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine’s Shoe Museum (148 N. 8th St.) houses about 900 pairs of shoes, with 250 on display. The shoes span time and place, from Egyptian burial sandals to a pair of Manolo Blahniks owned by top fashion cop Joan Rivers. To schedule a tour of the shoe museum, call 215-625-5243 or email bwilliams@tuspm.temple.edu.

The Simeone Automotive Museum (6825 Norwitch Drive, 215-365-7233) celebrates the art of the racing car, featuring the collection of proprietor Fred Simeone. Every fourth Saturday of the month at noon, cars are taken out on the three-acre back lot for a demo. This weekend, it’s England versus Italy, with two Bentleys (the 1927 Bentley Speed Model and the 1930 Bentley 4.5-liter "Blower") and an Alfa Romeo 8C taking the track.

Other art

The Barnes is known for its collection of Impressionist and Modernist works. The James A. Michener Art Museum (138 S. Pine St., Doylestown, 215-340-9800, michenermuseum.org) has its own homegrown collection, featuring Impressionist artists from Pennsylvania and Modernist artists from New Hope. Get retro while you’re there and visit "Offering of the Angels: Treasures from the Uffizi Gallery," featuring 45 works from some of the greatest painters of the Renaissance from the gallery in Florence, Italy (through Aug. 12).

The Woodmere Art Museum (9201 Germantown Ave., 215-247-0476, woodmereartmuseum.org) honors Salvatore Pinto, one of Albert Barnes’ prized students and teacher at the Barnes Foundation, who was inspired by the European Modernists. While you’re out there, don’t miss out on "Haunting Narratives: Detours from Philadelphia Realism, 1935 to the Present," featuring the works of nearly 60 artists from the area whose version of realism takes a dark turn. Both exhibits run through July 15.

If free is what you’re looking for, the Institute of Contemporary Art (118 S. 36th St., 215-898-7108, icaphila.org) has free admission all the time, not just for one weekend.

Nature calls

Why simply look at a facsimile of nature in works such as Henri Rousseau’s "Woman Walking in an Exotic Forest" or Paul Cezanne’s "Mont Sainte-Victoire" in the Barnes when you can experience the real thing? Just because the art has moved doesn’t mean the Barnes location in Merion will become some nuclear waste dump or, worse, an Olive Garden restaurant. The famed arboretum on the Merion site (300 N. Latch’s Lane, 610-667-0290) is unfortunately under lock and key until they reopen in the fall with art-education classes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give the grounds a peek inside through the gate. Not to mention, we have our own arboreal paradise: Bartram’s Gardens (54th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard, 215-729-5281).

Pay tribute

Along with hosting one of the most extensive art collections in the world, Albert Barnes was also dedicated to the education of artists, so take a class. At the Clay Studio’s (137-139 N. Second St. 215-925-3453) Out of Hand, instructors will walk you through how to make your own simple project or give you the freedom to freestyle. (May 25, 6 to 8 p.m., $30-$35; for $5, the studio will fire and ship your work to you. Contact Sara Gallo at sara@theclaystudio.org or 215-925-3453, Ext. 23 for more info.)

Stay bitter

For those who believe the Barnes’ rightful place is back in its original spot in Merion, there’s always Don Argott’s "The Art of Steal." Funded by Lenny Feinberg, who opposed the move, the documentary isn’t so kind to the opposite side. You won’t have to leave the house; the documentary is currently streaming on Netflix, for rent ($4.99) and sale in HD ($19.99) on iTunes and to buy instantly on Amazon ($9.99). (Looking for other art-heist films, albeit fictional ones? Check out "How to Steal a Million," "Once a Thief" and "Gambit.") Or sit outside and read John Anderson’s book about the Barnes, Art Held Hostage: The Battle Over the Barnes Collection.

Contact Molly Eichel at 215-854-5909 or eichelm@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @mollyeichel. Read her blog posts at www.philly.com/entertainment.

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